Japan is preparing to send its whaling fleet on an expedition on Tuesday, despite protestations from anti-hunting groups and Australia's environment minister who say that it is not necessary to kill whales in the name of research.
The expedition will take place in the Antarctic and will last three months. In a statement, Japan's Fisheries Agency said that 333 Antarctic minke whales would be captured and killed, though non-lethal research would also be carried out.
This comes after a year-long cessation in whale-killing, following a ruling by the United Nations's International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Japan must cease its whaling programs, which Australia argued were just commercial whaling in disguise.
The Australian Minister for the Environment Greg Hunt posted a statement on his website responding to the new mission, saying: "The Australian Government has made repeated representations at the highest level to urge Japan not to resume whaling this year.
"Representations have been made by the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Environment Minister," he added.
"We do not accept in any way, shape or form the concept of killing whales for so-called 'scientific research'…
"There is no need to kill whales in the name of research. Non lethal research techniques are the most effective and efficient method of studying all cetaceans… We will continue to urge Japan to pursue non-lethal methods of research and end its unnecessary whaling programme."
Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd — which has previously been involved in aggressive confrontations with Japanese whaling boats — joined calls for the expedition not to go ahead.
"The pristine waters of the Southern Ocean are once again under threat from poachers," Sea Shepherd chief executive Alex Cornelissen said.
"We would like to remind the Japanese government that the whales of the Southern Ocean are protected by international law, by Australian law and by Sea Shepherd.
"As such, any violation of the sanctity of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary will be regarded as a criminal act."
In April, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) rejected a proposal from Japan to kill 4,000 whales over the next 12 years, after a panel ruled that the east Asian island country had failed to provide enough evidence that these hunts would be for scientific purposes. Scientific research is one of the few legal exceptions to a 1986 global ban on commercial whaling.
However, the convention also provides countries the ability to issue themselves with permission, something that Japan continues to take advantage of.
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