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Japanese whaling fleet returns after killing 440 minke whales

Channel News Asia (Pacific News)

29th March 2004

Japan's research whaling fleet returned to port on Monday after killing a self-imposed quota of 440 minke whales in Antarctic waters, officials said.

Two vessels arrived at Shimonoseki port, some 800 kilometres southwest of Tokyo, while another ship returned to a port in Innoshima, east of Shimonoseki, said an official at the Fisheries Agency.

The factory ship, carrying most of the whales carcasses on board, and another vessel are to arrive in Hakodate, some 700 kilometres north of the capital, on Wednesday after five months in the Antarctic Ocean, southwest of Australia.

"This mission was designed to gather data such as eating habits of whale populations," the agency official said, adding that the whale meat would be sold in Japan "in line with international rules."

No anti-whaling protests greeted the boats at the two ports on Monday. A spokeswoman for environmental group Greenpeace said that no rallies or statement was planned to oppose their return.

Japan argues that the research backs up its claims that whale populations are thriving, and provides data showing whales are consuming valuable fish stocks. Opponents argue it is just commercial whaling in disguise.

Japan stopped commercial whaling in 1988 after withdrawing its objection to the global moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

But it began what it calls "research" whaling in 1987, using a loophole in the moratorium permitting the hunting of whales for research purposes.

Japan kills about 700 large whales a year in the name of research, including animals taken on a summer whaling voyage to the North Pacific which is doubly controversial as endangered sei whales have been part of the quota.

The meat from the research cull - about 2,000 tonnes annually, according to environmental groups - ends up in supermarkets and restaurants across Japan, a practice defended on the grounds it finances future whaling missions.

According to the whaling commission's rules, research whale meat must be processed and sold, a fishery ministry official said.