Japan’s whaling fleet is preparing to leave for the Antarctic for a three-month hunt, despite protests from opponents who say Tokyo has not proved that whales need to be killed for research.
The announcement comes days after Japan submitted its final plan to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) after its scientific committee said earlier this year it was not convinced that whales needed to be killed for research on whale stock management and conservation.
The expedition, which leaves on Tuesday, will be the first since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled last year that the hunts were not truly scientific, forcing Tokyo to revise its Antarctic whaling plans.
Last year, Japan did go to the Antarctic but its research did not involve killing any whales.
Japan says lethal sampling is indispensable for obtaining data on the maturing ages of whales.
Under Tokyo’s scaled-down proposal, it plans to catch up to 333 minke whales, about one-third of what it used to kill, each year over the next 12 years, the fisheries agency and the foreign ministry said. The plan will be evaluated after six years.
Japan’s actual catch has fallen in recent years, in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat.
Protests by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd also contributed to the lower catch. The government has spent large amounts of tax money to sustain the whaling operations.
The IWC imposed a commercial ban on whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill whales under an exemption for research.
Australia, which brought the ICJ case against Japan, said it might send a boat to shadow the Japanese fleet.
Attorney-General George Brandis told the Senate that Australia was “very disappointed” by the resumption of whaling and had taken the matter up at “the highest levels” in a bid to get Japan to change its mind.
If diplomacy fails, Australia will consider sending a customs and border protection service patrol boat, Mr Brandis said.
He did not say what role such a boat might play, but it would probably try to gather evidence of illegal conduct.