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Japan begins Pacific whale 'research,' plans to kill 51 minkes

Japan begins Pacific whale 'research,' plans to kill 51 minkes
Japan has launched its seasonal Pacific whale hunt off Hokkaido Island, planning to kill 51 minke whales for what it describes as “research” purposes. Earlier this year, the International Court banned Japan’s Antarctic whale hunt, deeming it unscientific.

Four ships set sail from the port city of Kushiro on Sunday for Japan’s annual “research-based” whale hunting campaign, local media reported.

The fleet plans to catch 51 minke whales during the trip, which is to last through the end of October, Japan’s Fisheries Agency said.

The campaign is officially aimed at researching the contents of whales' stomachs to survey the impact of their predation on coastal fishing, the Japan Times reported. The meat of the mammals will be sold in markets and restaurants. Environmental activists claim that Japan’s “research” is a cover-up for commercial whaling.

A piece of sliced raw whale meat is pictured in a restaurant in Japan's oldest whaling village of Taiji, 420 km (260 miles) southwest of Tokyo June 2, 2008. (Reuters / Issei Kato)

The latest Pacific campaign off Kushiro is the first research in the area following the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ban imposed in March on the larger-scale Antarctic whaling. The court order ruled Japan’s Southern Ocean efforts illegal, saying they produce little actual research. The Pacific program was not specifically mentioned in the court ruling. The court also urged Japan to re-examine the “research” program.

Japan’s pro-whaling government is poised to restart the Antarctic campaign. Tokyo plans to submit a revised program with a more scientific angle to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on September 15 during the general meeting in Slovenia, Japanese media reported on Wednesday.

Tokyo reportedly plans to reduce the number of minke whales caught during the campaign and stop catching bigger mammals such as fin and humpback whales. If Japan’s revised program is approved, the Antarctic campaign may start by the end of 2015.

The Japanese push is expected to be met with strong protests from Australia and New Zealand, both of which stress the need to protect the endangered species.

An animal rights activist covered in red paint lies on a white sheet made to look like a Japanese flag during a protest against dolphin and small whale slaughter, Madrid, September 3, 2008. (Reuters / Susana Vera)

In addition, a recent study conducted by US scientists from the University of Vermont revealed that whales are capable of supporting the ocean ecosystem.

The Japanese whaling fleet departs twice a year. The previous campaign was carried out from April to June, as 30 minke whales were caught off Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture. In July, 90 sei whales and 25 Bryde's whales were slaughtered. During the North Pacific campaigns, whalers can kill up to 200 minke whales, 50 Bryde's, 100 sei whales, and 10 sperm whales, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Read more: Whale carved up in Japan as crowd of kids and locals watch (PHOTOS)