Japanese Whalers Set Sail:
By Harumi Ozawa
Japan's whaling fleet set sail
Monday, environmentalists said, apparently on an annual
Antarctic hunt likely to provoke fresh friction with
anti-whaling countries such as
Greenpeace said its activists saw the whalers
depart from a port in western Hiroshima prefecture
waved off by their families and whaling officials.
The Fisheries Agency and the operator of the factory ship
refused to confirm whether the fleet had left on its annual
five-month Antarctic voyage, which last year departed on
"We cannot disclose any information on its departure out of
consideration for the safety of the crew," said a spokesman for
boat operator Kyodo Senpaku.
Greenpeace said the fleet left from a pier on Innoshima
island, instead of its usual departure point of Shimonoseki,
led by the 8,000-tonne "Nisshin Maru" factory ship.
"The fleet attempted to leave Japan quietly," a Greenpeace
During the last Antarctic hunt, activists from the US-based
Sea Shepherd Conservation Society tracked down and hurled
bottles of chemicals at the fleet in an attempt to disrupt
operations, leading Japan to label them "terrorists."
Greenpeace also denounced the hunt but decided not to chase
the whalers this year as it fights to clear two activists being
prosecuted in Japan on charges of stealing whale meat during an
investigation into alleged corruption.
Japan aims to kill 1,000 whales a year using a loophole in a
1986 global whaling moratorium that allows "lethal research" on
the ocean giants.
Tokyo says whaling is part of its culture but makes no
secret the meat ends up on dinner tables.
It argues that Western opponents of whaling, led by
Australia, are insensitive to Japan's culture of whaling. But
few Japanese eat whale on a regular basis and surveys show that
many young people are questioning the hunt.
As the Japanese whalers apparently set off, Australia
unveiled a four-million-dollar (2.58-million US) scientific
research programme aimed at persuading Japan that it is not
necessary to kill the mammals to study them.
The funding for the Australian programme will be used for
research and scientific partnerships with other nations --
including Japan -- which will be invited to join the non-lethal
The package also includes money to develop commercial whale
watching in the Pacific and an independent assessment of
Japan's whaling programme.
"Australia does not believe that we need to kill whales to
understand them," Environment Minister Peter Garrett told
reporters in Sydney.
Japan's Fisheries Agency said Tokyo already has a non-lethal
research programme jointly with the International Whaling
"We cannot really tell what Australia's intention is,"
agency official Shigeki Takaya told AFP. "We have done
non-lethal research for some 20 years jointly with the IWC.
"Japan does not reject non-lethal research but also conducts
lethal studies for data that can be only obtained through
lethal programmes," he said.
Last season, Japan caught 551 whales in the northwest
Pacific and Antarctic oceans, just over half its target, due to
harassment by Sea Shepherd activists, who have vowed again to
physically stop the Japanese whalers.
Sea Shepherd captain Paul Watson said last week Hollywood
star Daryl Hannah would join the militant conservationist
group's ship, "Steve Irwin," for a looming confrontation with
Japan's whalers in the Antarctic.
Japanese officials said last week the whaling fleet would
again spare humpback whales from the Antarctic hunt this
season. Japan last season initially planned to cull 50
humpbacks, enraging Australia, where whales are a major tourist
attraction. Tokyo suspended its plan at the last minute.