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Countries to Clash Over Japan's Controversial "Research" Whaling

Sep 15, 2014 12:27 PM EDT
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Countries will clash over Japan's controversial whaling program after announcing its intention to continue hunting in the Antarctic next year, despite a ruling by the top UN court.

Japan has long claimed that their annual whaling is all in the name of "research," but for many it appears that whaling is used less for science and more for sushi.

The country cancelled its 2014-15 season, but is expected to present a new plan during a four-day meeting at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) this week in the Slovenian Adriatic Sea resort of Portoroz.

"We are dealing with some contentious issues and the positions of the countries at the meeting remain far apart," Ryan Wulff, deputy United States commissioner to the IWC, told the Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Whaling for research purposes is exempt from the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling, and despite an International Court of Justice's ruling in March to cease annual Antarctic hunts, Japan plans to continue to take advantage of the law's loophole.

"The whaling commission is long overdue to adopt reforms that will protect whales from so-called scientific hunts, which are in reality, a cover for the harvesting of whale meat," Aimee Leslie, head of the World Wildlife Fund's (WWF) delegation at the meeting, said, according to the AFP.

(Photo : Reuters) Workers butcher a Baird's Beaked whale at Wada port in Minamiboso, southeast of Tokyo.

IWC figures show that during the 2013-14 summer season, Japanese hunters killed 252 minke whales in the Antarctic and 92 off its own coast, as well as 100 sei, 28 Bryde's, three minke and one sperm whale in the northwest Pacific.

Minke whales, in particular, are drawing special attention by conservationists. While the species is not yet endangered - there are an estimated 800,000 worldwide, according to Sea Shepherd - wildlife advocates worry that whaling is rapidly depleting their numbers.

Whaling approval from the IWC isn't mandatory, though Japan would likely face intense scrutiny over whether it complies with the court ruling if they tried to resume whaling in the Antarctic.

"Countries like Japan, Iceland and Norway must cease undermining, and in Japan's case violating, the whaling moratorium, by killing whales for commercial gain," Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International, told the AFP.

"We're looking to the IWC and all whale-friendly nations to hold a firm line."

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