Whalers are striking out in search of the ocean's giants this week, but Antarctic whales are safe - for now.
The Japanese Fisheries Agency announced late Tuesday that the country's Institute of Cetacean Research plans to conduct non-lethal research by taking skin samples from Antarctic whales until March 28. But the three vessels will leave their harpoons at home, AFP reports.
The expedition this Thursday comes after a major ruling against Japan's commercial whaling program. Last March, the highest court of the United Nations, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ruled that Japan's Antarctic whale hunts were "unscientific," and ordered them to stop hunting. The court said that the commercial hunts did not fall under an exemption in the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission.
Despite the absence of harpoons on the ships this time around, Japan has already made it clear that it will resume lethal "research whaling" in the middle of 2015, despite the ICJ ruling. The campaign, dubbed the New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean (NEWREP-A), states Japan's intentions to continue whaling:
After giving serious scientific consideration, it has been concluded that age data at the annual scale can be obtained only through lethal sampling methods, and thus lethal methods need to be employed under this program.
Japan's quota is 333 minke whales, down from 900 whales in earlier years.
And Sea Shepherd, the organization that's been leading the direct action campaigns against whalers in the Southern Ocean, points out that the scouting trip is quite possibly just a scouting trip for future hunts.
Captain Peter Hammarstedt of Sea Shepherd said in a statement:
"The government of Japan's farcical, non-lethal whaling initiative must be seen in the context of a greater criminal conspiracy. The government of Japan has already announced their plans to resume the killing of whales in 2015/2016, despite condemnation from the highest court in the world, the International Court of Justice. Therefore, the data collected during this upcoming season will be used to kill whales in as little as one year from now. Japan's non-lethal program is the equivalent of robbers casing a bank in preparation for a robbery; the heist that robs the world of its most majestic creatures."