Japan attacked for expansion of commercial whale hunting

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The Independent Online

Conservation groups have condemned the Japanese authorities for expanding their commercial whaling programme to include two further species of whale. Last night the international community signalled that it may respond by imposing sanctions on Japan.

Conservation groups have condemned the Japanese authorities for expanding their commercial whaling programme to include two further species of whale. Last night the international community signalled that it may respond by imposing sanctions on Japan.

A fleet set sail last night for whaling grounds in the north-west Pacific and, for the first time, is expected to add sperm and Bryde's whales to its targets. Four Japanese whaling vessels will add up to 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde's whales to their existing quota of 100 minke whales.

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), a British-based environmental campaigning group, described the new step as "aggressive".

The move is in defiance of calls by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for Japan to cancel the hunt.

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton were among many international leaders who urged Japan to abandon the two-month expedition.

A spokesman for the White House said last night that sanctions were a possibility.

All large species of whale are protected by the IWC, which passed a global moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, following decades of over-exploitation which had driven several whale species to the edge of extinction.

But Japan has continued to hunt minke whales, claiming that the catches are purely "scientific" and therefore do not break any IWC regulations, which do permit a limited amount of whale hunting for research purposes.

Japan now maintains that new research on sperm and Bryde's whales is required in order to study their diet; it claims these whales are devastating fish stocks needed for human food.

But the WDCS describes the Japanese argument as "spurious", and claims the hunting of whales is motivated by the domestic market for whale meat and blubber. Whale meat is a delicacy in Japan; oils from sperm whales can be used for cosmetics and perfume.

Sue Fisher, campaigns manager for WDCS, called for sanctions to be imposed against Japan and said: "This is nothing to do with science. Japan wishes to take two species that yield far more meat than the minke whale and are therefore better economic targets.

"Japan has made a defiant and aggressive move that, if unchecked, will lead to a further expansion of whaling. History has shown such activities have been consistently unsustainable and are brutally cruel."

The Worldwide Fund for Nature also called for sanctions against Japan, saying the nation's research is merely a "guise" used to expand a banned commercial whale hunt.

Bryde's whales are roughly twice as large as minke whales at 15m in length, while sperm whales, whose numbers have plummeted in the past two centuries from 2.4 million to only 600,000, can grow to up to 18m. But Japan maintains that numbers of some species are increasing to levels that can be sustained for a century or more.

Earlier this month Japan blocked the creation of a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific. The British-backed proposal would have created a 4.7 million-square-mile safe zone for several species.

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