Japan intends to expand its whaling operations to hunt the endangered sei whale in the North Pacific. Japan plans to target 50 of this endangered species in the 2002 season between June and October. Dr. Seiji Ohsumi, director general of the Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research, announced Thursday, that Japan plans to expand its whaling program in the North Pacific to include the killing of 50 endangered sei whales, 100 minke whales, 50 Bryde's whales, and 10 sperm whales.
The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has listed the sei whale as endangered, because it faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future.
The Japanese announcement was met with outrage from conservation groups worldwide, including the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which called upon governments to take tough action against Japan for its "misguided" whaling program.
Ohsumi also announced that Japan plans to allow an additional 50 minke whales to be hunted this year by small boat, coastal whalers despite a decade of rulings by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) against such whaling.
Japanís announcement comes two months before the annual meeting of the IWC, to be held this year in Shimonoseki, Japan. Conservationists fear that this time Japan may succeed in its annual bid to end the international moratorium on commercial whaling established in 1986.
In the year 2000, Japan added a catch target of 50 Bryde's whales and 10 sperm whales to its self-assigned minke whaling quota.
Over the past two years, Japan caught a total of 246 whales in the northwest Pacific. Japan also hunts around 400 minke annually in the Antarctic.
Japan justifies its whaling under a research provision of the International Whaling Commission regulations. Japanese fisheries officials claim they need to kill whales to study their breeding and feeding habits.
Australian government officials say they will do what they can to stop Japan from hunting sei whales this year.
"Australia has consistently opposed the Japanese 'scientific' whaling program, which has continued despite mounting international criticism. This 'research' is unnecessary and can be inhumane, and its products end up as whalemeat for sale in Japanese markets," said Acting Environment Minister Warren Truss today.
Australian Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment Dr. Sharman Stone said, "We voted with a clear majority in the International Whaling Commission last July for a resolution calling on Japan to end its scientific whaling program. The prospect of it being expanded flies in the face of international opinion."
"There is no scientific justification for whales to be killed in order for them to be studied. Australian researchers are developing and using methods to study living whales, including by collecting and analysing feces," she said. "This allows us to study whales' feeding habits throughout their life, rather than drawing conclusions based only on their last meal."
Japanís announcement also comes as Japanese officials and other members of the IWC are meeting in Auckland, New Zealand to explore possibilities of how to regulate any future whaling.
The Japanese Fisheries Ministry is doing everything it can to return to the bad old days of industrial whaling, said IFAW President, Fred O'Regan. "It is time for Japan to stop whaling, stop making up its own rules, and start adhering to the letter and spirit of international agreements protecting whales."
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