Japan Gears Up for Antarctic Whale Hunt

Posted October 4th, 2011 at 5:20 am (UTC-5)
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Japan is gearing up for this year's Antarctic whale hunt with a sharp eye on anti-whaling activists who forced an early end to last year's hunt.

Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano said Tuesday the government is planning new measures to protect the whale hunters.

He said those measures will include the dispatch of a Coast Guard patrol boat to accompany the whaling fleet.

The fleet was forced to cut short last year's hunt because of repeated interference from boats belonging to the U.S.-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The activists hurled paint and stink bombs at the ships, and snarled their propellers with floating objects.

The actions spurred Tokyo to consider whether to continue the whaling program.

Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, but Japan has continued the practice under an exception that allows for whales to be killed for research purposes.

Tokyo says the research is necessary to determine the size of the world's whale population, but critics say it is using research as a cover for commercial whaling. They note that the whale meat is usually sold in stores and at restaurants.

Whale meat was served as a valuable source of protein in Japan in the years after World War Two, but demand for it has declined over the decades.