Japan is once again heading south to hunt whales.
Last Friday, four whaling vessels left Japan bound for Antarctica on their annual hunt for the marine mammals. They plan to hunt up to 935 Antarctic minke whales and up to 50 fin whales through March.
Citing the Fisheries Agency, Kyodo News reported three vessels had departed from the far-western port of Shimonoseki, while environmental group Greenpeace said the mother ship had left another port also in the country’s west.
“The mother ship, Nisshin Maru, left Innoshima today,” said Greenpeace Japan’s executive director Junichi Sato.
“Today was virtually the last day when they could leave for the Antarctic Sea,” he said, adding that the fisheries agency had announced that the departure would take place within this month.
Last February, the marine conservation group Sea Shepherd declared a victory for whales when they forced Japan to cancel its annual whale hunt in the Antarctic. According to several reports, the 2011 whale hunt had been a huge failure, thanks to the harassing techniques of Sea Shepherd, with its trio of anti-whaling ships: the Bob Barker, the Steve Irwin, and the Gojira, the Japanese name for Godzilla.
Why Is Whale Hunting Still Going On?
The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to hunt whales despite worldwide opposition.
Under a provision of the ban, Japan is permitted to kill around 1,000 whales in the Southern Ocean every year for “scientific research.” Using this horrendous “scientific” exception, Japan over the years has killed thousands of whales for little to no good reason: as Sea Shepherd has pointed out, the whale meat is sold in Japan and served in restaurants.
The hope had been that last season’s suspension would mean the end of these factory ships of death which have trawled the oceans of the southern hemisphere for decades and illegally harvested critically endangered blue whales, beloved humpbacks, as well as the minke, fin and other whale species.
But the hunt is going forward. The Australian government was quick to react.
Australia’s environment minister Tony Burke has condemned the Japanese government for reportedly dispatching its whaling fleet for another expedition season in the Southern Ocean, describing Japan’s claims that its whaling program is for scientific research as “a joke.”
The Australian government has been a long-time critic of the activities of Japan’s whaling fleet in regional waters, and initiated legal proceedings against Japan’s whaling program in the International Court of Justice in May 2010.
Burke told reporters in Sydney on Saturday that he did not expect a response from the ICJ until “sometime next year,” but called on Japan to respect a moratorium on whaling in the Southern Ocean.
But Sea Shepherd is preparing to ensure that not a single whale is killed. Natalie Fox, a British woman who is a co-founder of the campaigning group Women for Whales, will be part of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Zero Tolerance. The group will be sending four ships to take on the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean.
May Sea Shepherd prevail.
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