The Japanese whaling fleet has once again set out to harvest whales under the abused "scientific research" provision of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). This time, the three-vessel flotilla, led by the factory ship Nisshin Maru, are headed into the Northwest Pacific Ocean with the intention of catching 260 whales including 100 minke whales, ostensibly to examine stomach contents, take DNA samples, and conduct other research on the dead whales.
Last year, the fleet's whaling season in the southern oceans off of Antarctica was cut short, with a total of 172 whales taken, primarily due to the harassment by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society vessels. Many nations hoped that the curtailed season would spell an end to japan's whaling activities. The recall of the fleet was a major victory for the Society but, as of this writing, there has been no response from the anti-whaling organization in regards to this recent departure to the northwest Pacific. It is unknown as to whether it anticipated or was caught off guard by this new hunting expedition.
Several key vessels of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have been engaged in harassment of the Mediterranean tuna fishing fleet. With demand for tuna high worldwide, not just in Asian markets, the bluefin tuna stands perilously close on the brink of extinction. Demand has encouraged illegal fisheries and Sea Shepherd has dispatched the Steve Irwin and the newly acquired Brigette Bardot to the Mediterranean Sea to track down those fishing boats working outside the laws and regulations of ICCAT (International Commission on the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna).
Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research, the organization that is fronting this new hunt, told the Japan Times that the whalers haven't encountered any obstruction from anti-whaling activities so far, but said they remain on high alert.
At the last meeting of the IWC, a proposal was made to allow Japan to hunt whales in its own coastal waters in exchange for reducing its annual catch quota for research whaling. However, as a testament to the Commission's inability to reach a binding consensus regarding Japan's whaling activities, the proposal was, ultimately, not acted upon. In the meantime, Australia continues to move forward with their legal action against Japan's whaling activities through the International Court of Justice.
Read about the launch of whaling fleet in the Japan Times.