- Title: JAPAN/FILE: Fears rise for humpbacks as Japan whaling fleet sets sail
- Date: 18th November 2007
- Summary: CREW'S FAMILY WAVING GOODBYE
- Embargoed: 3rd December 2007 12:00
- Topics: Environment / Natural World,Industry
- Reuters ID: LVAEA1Z81BZ56EYBK3KECE3IOGIY
- Story Text: Greenpeace raises its alarm as a Japanese whaling fleet leaves for an expedition which activists say will for the first time target humpbacks -- a perennial favourite among whale-catchers.
A Japanese whaling fleet left on Sunday (November 28) for an expedition that activists say will for the first time target humpbacks, a perennial favourite among whale-watchers.
A fleet of ships led by the 8,000-tonne Nisshin Maru left Shimonoseki port in southwestern Japan for the Antarctic Ocean around midday on an outing that operators say is for research purposes.
Environmental activist group Greenpeace said the fleet's mission is to hunt whales for commercial purposes, adding that its Esperanza campaign ship was in waters off Japan, waiting to intercept the fleet in the coming days to demand its return home.
Japan, which says whaling is a cherished cultural tradition, abandoned commercial whaling in accordance with an international moratorium in 1986, but began the next year to conduct what it calls scientific research whaling.
Greenpeace said that if the fleet fails to heed its demands to return home, the Esperanza will follow the expedition into southern waters to protest against the hunt.
Junichi Sato, the Ocean Project Leader of Greenpeace Japan said that the whaling ships are trying to deceive the Japanese public by carrying out their hunting under the pretence of it being research.
"The Japanese Fisheries Agency is deceiving the Japanese public by painting the word 'research' on the side of the whaling ships. A real scientific programme doesn't need to include the killing of the whales to study them. This is simply the commercial whaling in disguise. Therefore these whaling ships need to come back to Japan as soon as possible and simply this whaling programme needs to be stopped," Sato said.
Whale meatup in Japanese supermarkets and restaurants, but appetite is fading for what is now considered a delicacy.
The fleet aims to catch around 850 minke whales, which Japan says are now abundant enough to take, in addition to some 50 fin whales, which environmentalists say are endangered, and 50 humpbacks, which are favourites of whale-watchers for their distinctive silhouettes and acrobatic leaps from the water.
The fleet's departure was postponed to Sunday from November 15 to avoid causing friction during a meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and U.S. President George W. Bush that took place on Friday (November 16), Greenpeace said.
Japanese fisheries officials were unavailable for comment on Sunday, but the nation has long argued that its whaling programme promotes the understanding of whale stocks and species, and officials have protested the activities of environmental organisations.
Japan abandoned its last Antarctic whale-hunting season earlier this year after fire crippled the Nisshin Maru, killing one crew member. That expedition netted a haul of around 500 whales.
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