Japan has announced the killing of 177 whales as part of its annual hunt, once again claiming the practice is for scientific research – a move which allows it to circumnavigate a moratorium on hunting the mammals.
Three ships, which left port in June, returned with 43 minke whales and 134 sei whales, according to the country’s Fisheries Agency. The total number of 177 whales was the goal stipulated by the government beforehand.
The annual practice comes despite Japan being a signatory to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) moratorium on hunting. Each year, Tokyo exploits a loophole by stating that the hunt is done in the name of scientific research.
The Fisheries Agency says it will collect data on the whales’ stomach contents, among other things, and report its findings to the IWC, The Japan Times reported.
Japan says it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to reintroduce commercial whale hunting as a traditional source of food.
The studies are “necessary to estimate the precise number of [sustainable] catches as we look to restart commercial whaling,” Fisheries Agency official Kohei Ito told AFP.
The hunt draws ire from animal rights groups and other critics each year, many of whom say the “research” claim is merely a cover for commercial whaling, as meat from the captured mammals is later sold.
Anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd sent ships to obstruct Japanese whaling vessels for years, but said last month that it would not be facing off with Japanese whalers this year, as it “cannot compete with their military grade technology.”
It vowed to continue its fight under a new plan, stating that its “efforts to go after and shut down whalers will continue, and not only against Japanese whaling, but also against Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic whaling.”
Norway and Iceland are the only countries in the world that authorize commercial whaling. An annual hunt in Denmark’s Faroe Islands sees whales and dolphins killed by hand, their meat and blubber distributed to residents.
The Tuesday announcement by the Japanese Fisheries Agency comes after it submitted a plan to the IWC in May, detailing a plan to capture a total of 304 whales per year along its coast and offshore waters in the northwestern Pacific between fiscal 2017 and 2028.
In 2014, the United Nations International Court of Justice ordered Japan to end a regular hunt in Antarctic waters, saying the project did not meet conventional scientific standards. Japan canceled the hunt for just one season, resuming it the following year under a new program which it promised was genuinely scientific.