Japan to continue whaling in Pacific this year

The Japanese government said Friday it will continue whaling in the Pacific Ocean, with whalers set to depart in late April, despite a U.N. court ordering Tokyo last month to halt its program in the Antarctic.

Tokyo had already announced it will not conduct whaling in the Antarctic this year under the current program, abiding by the International Court of Justice ruling. But it will submit a new whaling program to the International Whaling Commission, aiming to resume its whaling in the Antarctic from next fiscal year.

For this year's whaling in the Pacific, the government plans to reduce the number of whales caught in an attempt to win support from the international community.

Tokyo's decision to continue what it calls "research whaling" in the Pacific Ocean and its bid to resume whaling in the Antarctic will draw strong criticism from antiwhaling countries, observers say.

"We have come to the conclusion (to continue whaling) after carefully examining the ruling," Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told reporters.

Japan's decision "reflects what the (ICJ's) judgment pointed out, and we would like to sincerely explain that to each country," he added.

Japanese whalers are expected to leave a port in northeastern Japan on April 26 to conduct whaling in the Pacific Ocean off the Japanese coast. The departure had been initially planned for Tuesday, but was put off due to prolonged discussion within the government over the matter.

There are two aspects of the Pacific Ocean whaling program -- coastal and offshore.

According to the farm ministry, Japan took a total of 120 minke whales through its operation off the Pacific Ocean coast of Japan last year, but is considering reducing the figure to 100 this year.

As for the offshore whaling operation that is expected to begin in mid-May, Tokyo plans to slash the number from 260 whales caught last year to 110, the ministry said.

A farm ministry official said those numbers were decided "based on recent statistical data," and purposes of so-called research whaling have been narrowed down.

In May 2010, Australia, one of the most vocal countries against whaling, lodged a case with the ICJ aimed at halting Japan's whaling in the Antarctic. On March 31, the international court ruled that Japan's whaling violated a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling in the Antarctic.