Japan to double annual cull of minke whales

Japan and its pro-whaling allies narrowly lost a vote that conservationists feared would end a two-decade ban on whale hunting. But Tokyo said it would increase the number of whales it kills for scientific study before selling the meat.

On the opening day of the International Whaling Commission's annual plenary session, the coalition led by Japan lost a pair of early procedural votes considered a barometer of its clout in the group that regulates global whale hunts.

Before the vote, Japan said it would more than double its annual cull of minke whales to as many as 935 from 440 - in a new programme beginning in the southern hemisphere later this year. The decision, an extension of the scientific research whaling Japan began in 1987 - which critics say is little more than commercial whaling in disguise - was expected.

The 66-member commission banned commercial hunts in 1986 to protect species near extinction. Japan says it kills whales to study them before selling the meat, which is allowed under the rules. Norway holds the only commercial whaling season in defiance of the ban, which IWC members are free to reject.

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