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Japan Defies World, Launching New Whale Hunt For "Research"

Despite losing its defense of the practice in the International Court of Justice, the Japanese fleet set sail for the Antarctic with plans to kill up to 333 minke whales.

Posted on December 1, 2015, at 6:11 p.m. ET

Kyodo Kyodo / Reuters

Japanese researchers check a minke whale at Ayukawa port.

Japan defied the world Tuesday, launching a three-month whale hunt in the name of scientific research — a claim that has been roundly criticized by the global community.

As expected, the move drew widespread condemnation, particularly from environmental groups and Australia, which brought its case against Japan to the International Court of Justice. Last year, the court ruled that Japan's annual culls indeed served no scientific purpose.

On Monday, however, Japan decided to flout the ruling, submitting a final proposal to the International Whaling Commission outlining plans to expand its research area in the Antarctic and catch up to 333 minke whales annually over the next 12 years.

Kyodo Kyodo / Reuters

Families of crew members wave as Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru leaves on Tuesday.

Australia's environment minister, Greg Hunt, criticized Japan's turnabout on a previous pledge to abide by the international court's ruling.

"Japan has now withdrawn consent for such matters to be litigated before the International Court of Justice," he said in a statement. "Australia will continue to pursue the issue through the International Whaling Commission and in direct discussions with Japan."

Koji Sasahara / AP

A whale meat restaurant manager slices a chunk of lean meat from a whale caught in the Antarctic.

The commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill thousands of cetaceans under an exemption for research, insisting the practice is necessary to accurately gauge the ages of maturing whales.

Opponents argue non-lethal methods can be used instead, and accuse Japan of using the "research expeditions" for commercial gain.

Over the years, the Japanese government has had to increase already hefty subsidies to prop up its whaling industry.

Critics contend that Japan's domestic market for whale meat is limited and there is no global appetite for commercial whaling in the Antarctic.

However, in its final proposal to the International Whaling Commission, Japan said it would not re-evaluate its plan for at least six years.

Earlier this year, Tokyo also put the United Nations on notice, saying it would no longer recognize lawsuits regarding its maritime research activities.

The anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, however, vowed to push its case in U.S. courts, where it is currently engaged with Japan on a number of issues.

Reuters

A Sea Shepherd vessel fires signal flares toward a Japanese whaling ship in 2014.

The nonprofit has repeatedly clashed with the Japanese fleet, using its own ships to disrupt the capture of whales over the years and prompting Tokyo to file claims in U.S. courts.

"The whalers refused to appear in the Australian Federal Court, and after losing in the International Court of Justice, they have declared that they will no longer submit to its jurisdiction," Claire Loebs Davis, an attorney for Sea Shepherd, said in a statement. "Since the whalers chose to sue Sea Shepherd in a U.S. court, however, they have submitted to jurisdiction here, and we have a unique opportunity to pursue these important claims against them."

Issei Kato / Reuters

In the absence of a diplomatic solution, Australian Attorney General George Brandis reportedly told senators that the government would likely deploy a customs boat to trail the Japanese fleet, theoretically to gather evidence.

For its part, Japan, in its opening statement to the whaling commission (IWC), acknowledged the "strong emotions" on either side of the issue and vowed to keep a dialogue open with fellow members.

"Exactly because of this, science, international law, and mutual respect should play a more important role in the IWC," Japan said. "The delegation of Japan will make the best effort to address the challenges facing the IWC through diplomatic negotiations."

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