Japanese whaling ships to return to Antarctic

On Thursday, Japanese whaling ships will return to the Antarctic to conduct a research program to count whales and collect their skin samples after a UN court ordered an end to the annual hunt.

According to a government official, two ships, the 724-ton Yushinmaru and the 747-ton Daini (No 2) Yushinmaru, weighed anchor from a port in western Shimonoseki city, which is a main whaling base.

As per the Japanese Fisheries Agency, a third boat, the Nisshinmaru, will start its journey on January 16 to provide logistical support.

According to Tokyo, this season's excursion, which would probably last until March 28, will not include any lethal hunting. Harpoons that are generally used to capture the huge mammals have been removed. According to the agency, crew members on the two boats will conduct 'sighting surveys' and take skin samples from the giant marine mammals.

The Institute of Cetacean Research will conduct the non-lethal research as the International Court of Justice, the highest court of the United Nations, ruled in March that Tokyo was violating a scientific exemption that was brought into effect in 1986 moratorium on whaling.

According to Nori Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation to the court, "It's not only Japan that is engaged in whaling. It's almost nearly 10 countries in the world, including the United States, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Russia among others".

The UN court said that Tokyo was doing a commercial hunt under a veneer of science. Japan said after the ruling that it would terminate winter's Antarctic mission, but conveyed its intention to recommence 'research whaling' in 2015-16 since then.

Tokyo has laid down an annual target of 333 minke whales for future hunts, down from some 900 under the previous programme, in a new plan submitted to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and its Scientific Committee.