In its first-ever turnaround on whaling, the Japanese government has dropped its plans to hunt humpbacks. The about-face is a victory for Kevin Rudd, the new Australian prime minister, who had objected strenuously and ordered a patrol of the humpback hunt. Tokyo said, however, that the fleet currently en route to the Antarctic Ocean will hunt almost 1,000 whales of other species, including the giant fin whale.
Humpback whales, whose breeding season is a major tourist attraction in Australia, have been protected from hunting by a 1966 moratorium, as well as a 1986 agreement to halt all commercial whaling, which Japan evades via a loophole that allows "lethal research" on the sea mammals. The now-abandoned kill of 50 humpbacks was to be the first in 40 years. Besides Japan, Norway and Iceland are the only other countries who continue to hunt whales.