The Japanese whaling fleet left for Antarctica on Tuesday to resume hunting these mammals after a year on hiatus due to a ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and after criticism from countries such as Australia and the United States, one of the its main allies. Japan aims to hunt more than 300 whales before the season ends in 2016 and about 4,000 over the next twelve years as part of a scientific program to research these animals.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 2014 that Japan must stop whaling in the Antarctic Ocean and an International Whaling Commission said in April 2015 that the country has yet to justify its need to kill them.
However, Tokyo has recalculated its hunting plan established for the 2015/16 season by reducing the number of minke whales to 333, two-thirds less than in previous seasons. "Last year, unfortunately, with the ruling of the ICJ we could not hunt whales," said Tomoaki Nakao, the mayor of Shimonoseki, a city in the west of the country and where the whaling fleet is located and which occupies part of the constituency of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
"There is no happier day than today," Nakao said, addressing the crew in a ceremony before departing. Japan, which has long held that most whale species are not in danger of extinction and that eating their meat is part of its food culture, began with so-called "scientific hunting" in 1987, a year after it entered an international moratorium on whaling is in force.
Whale meat ends up being sold in stores, although most Japanese do not consume it. Environmental activists condemned Japan's decision. "It is completely unacceptable that the Japanese government ignores the International Court of Justice," Junichi Sato, executive director of Greenpeace in Japan, lamented in a statement.