Japan's whaling fleet is hunting a whale
Japan came under a storm of criticism Monday for going ahead with its largest whale hunt yet.
Defying warnings from its Western allies that it would inflame an emotional row on whaling, Japan on Sunday sent its fleet to the Antarctic Ocean. The hunt will include famed humpback whales for the first time.
A ship of Greenpeace environmentalists tried -- so far in vain -- to track down the six-vessel whaling fleet as the United States, Australia, Britain and New Zealand all spoke out against the catch.
Japan, where whale meat is an important part of people’s food, plans to kill 950 whales on the five-month mission using a loophole in a 1986 global moratorium that allows "lethal research" with scientific purpose on the giant mammals.
Australia's opposition Labor Party, which is leading in polls ahead of national elections Saturday, said it would send out the navy to track the Japanese whalers and take video footage if it takes power.
Prime Minister John Howard said while "I totally disagree" with Japanese whaling, he opposed bringing in the military.
The US acknowledged Japan's right to conduct the hunt, but urged it to "refrain" from doing so.
"While recognising Japan's legal right under the whaling convention to conduct this hunt, we note that non-lethal research techniques are available to provide nearly all relevant data on whale populations," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
The environmental group Greenpeace's Esperanza ship was trying to find the fleet but said that the whalers had turned off identification equipment.
"If they're so confident they were doing the right thing, they shouldn't have anything to hide, but obviously they do," Greenpeace activist Dave Walsh said.
Humpback whales, protected under a 1966 worldwide moratorium by International Whaling Commission after years of overhunting, are renowned for their complex songs and acrobatic displays.