Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Japan's Antarctic whale catch short

Japan's controversial whaling fleet returns to port this week with a smaller-than-expected haul, blaming harassment from militant activists in the Antarctic, the fisheries agency said.On its five-month mission, the six-ship flotilla caught 680 whales including 679 minke and just one fin whale -- well below a planned total haul of between 765 and 935 of the giant mammals, the agency said."It was mainly because of the harassment by the Sea Shepherds," said Shigeki Takaya, an official with the agency's whaling division.The environmental group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society harassed the Japanese ships for 16 days, he said.Takaya told AFP a Sea Shepherd ship rammed into Japanese vessels and its crew threw ropes and bottles filled with chemicals.Three of the six ships returned to the western port of Shimonoseki Monday, where television footage showed the coast guard inspecting damage from the high-seas clashes.The Nisshin Maru mother ship was due to arrive there on Tuesday.Japan kills whales using a loophole in a 1986 whaling moratorium that allows "lethal research", despite vehement protests led by Australia.In practice, most of the meat from such whaling ends up on Japanese dinner tables. Australia and other anti-whaling nations regularly accuse Tokyo of using research as a pretext for commercial hunting.Whale meat holds sentimental value for some Japanese baby-boomers and older people who ate it after the devastation of World War II.Most Japanese have seldom eaten whale since the moratorium, but Japan has been trying to give young people a taste for whale, which has also been marketed in curry and burgers.

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