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Under international pressure, Japan drops humpback hunt

December 22, 2007|From the Associated Press

TOKYO — Giving in to worldwide criticism, Japan's government announced Friday that a whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean for its annual hunt would not kill 50 rare humpback whales as originally planned.

The fleet does plan to kill 935 minke whales, a smaller, more plentiful species, and 50 fin whales.

Japan dispatched its whaling fleet last month to the ocean off Antarctica in the first major hunt to include humpback whales since the 1960s. Commercial hunts of humpbacks have been banned worldwide since 1966, and commercial whaling overall since 1986.

Japan's plan to kill them generated immediate criticism from environmental groups, which already opposed the hunts but were outraged by the inclusion of the rare humpbacks. Other nations also made their opposition clear.

Tokyo has staunchly defended its annual kill of more than 1,000 whales as crucial for research purposes.

Japan's whaling fleet is run by a government-backed research institute and operates under a clause in International Whaling Commission rules that allows the killing of whales for scientific purposes.

The United States, the current IWC chair nation, conducted several rounds of talks with Japan to seek a one- to two-year suspension of the humpback hunt.

Australia said this week that it was launching an effort to stop Japan's annual hunt, including sending surveillance planes and a ship to gather evidence for a possible legal challenge.

After Japan's announcement Friday, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said, "While this is a welcome move, the Australian government strongly believes that there is no credible justification for the hunting of any whales."

Environmental groups guardedly welcomed Japan's announcement, echoing the call for protection for other whales.

Commercial hunts of humpbacks -- which were harpooned almost to extinction in the 20th century -- were banned in the southern Pacific in 1963, and that ban was extended worldwide in 1966.

The American Cetacean Society estimates that the humpback population has recovered to 30,000 to 40,000 -- about a third of the number before modern whaling. The species is listed as "vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union.

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