Japan’s three whaling ships left the port of Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Saturday, to join the mother vessel Nisshin Maru and the remaining whaling fleet in the Antarctic Sea.
Of the three ships, two are whalers while one is meant for surveillance.
Using a clause in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium rules, Japan allegedly plans to ‘kill’ 935 minke whales, 50 endangered fin and 50 Humpback whales until March 2014.
According to the US-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Japan plans to kill whales under the guise of Institute of Cetacean Research, even though a ruling by the International Court of Justice in the Hague is still pending.
"What is clear is that whales like ‘Spot’ that call Australia home, that Australians and tourists from all over the world have experienced and eyeballed in the Great Barrier Reef, face imminent threat from a grenade tipped harpoon from Japan," says Sea Shepherd Australia managing director Jeff Hansen.
In 1986, the IWC imposed a "zero-catch" limit on commercial whaling, which was opposed by Japan, the Russian Federation and several other countries.
The clause in the moratorium, however, permits whaling practices for "scientific research".
Japan faced criticism for its whaling practice from anti-whaling activists and other countries since a zero-catch limit was imposed; however, the Asian country defends its action, saying whale meat has been part of its culinary tradition since the 12th century.
Interestingly, the country claims that its annual whaling practice is sustainable and crucial for scientific research on monitoring and management of the mammal’s numbers.
Following the research, the whale meat would be sold to outlets in the country, reports Digital Journal. Meanwhile, Australia plans to monitor the Japanese fleet arriving in its whale sanctuary through the season.
Sea Shepherd’s three ships are expected to set sail from Melbourne and Hobart in Australia, to the whaling grounds later this week. Although the Fisheries Agency of Japan sent a surveillance ship along with its whaling fleet last year, Sea Shepherd claimed that its ship was still able to ram one of the whalers.
Image: Nisshin Maru, said to be the world’s only whale factory ship. Photo courtesy of Sea Shepherd Australia / Tim Watters.