Battle On High Seas: Japan's target is to kill 935 whales

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Greenpeace activists confronted the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean yet again yesterday as part of their continuing protest against Japan's annual whale hunt.

Volunteers based aboard two Greenpeace vessels, the Esperanza and the Arctic Sunrise, succeeded in obstructing the whaling fleet's factory ship so that no whales could be transferred to it.

In the afternoon, the fleet started to hunt again, and the activists changed tactics, trying to prevent them from making kills. For most of the afternoon, using rigid inflatable boats, they hampered the harpoons, but then mechanical problems meant they had to return to the ship.

For the past three weeks, Greenpeace has been trying to disrupt the whaling fleet, which is hunting in an area which has been an official whale sanctuary since 1994. The whalers have responded to the activists' efforts by deploying fire hoses on them. This year, the Japanese intend to kill 935 minke whales and 10 endangered fin whales, despite the international moratorium on commercial whaling which has been in force for 20 years. The Japanese hunt is carried out under the guise of "scientific research" - but the resulting whale meat ends up on sale to consumers.

More whales are likely to be killed this year than at any time since the moratorium of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) came into force. More than 2,000 animals are likely to be hunted by the three countries - Norway, Iceland and Japan - defiantly continuing whaling.

Norway, which is openly hunting on a commercial basis, has raised its self-awarded quota of minke whales by 250 animals to 1,052. Iceland, following the Japanese down the alleged "scientific" route, is likely at least to match the 39 whales it took in 2005.

Japan and its allies are trying hard to secure a voting majority in the IWC, and may well get it at this June's meeting in St Kitts and Nevis in the Caribbean. Although a simple majority would not enable them to scrap the moratorium - a 75 per cent majority is needed for that - it would let them bring in changes which would help towards that goal.