Japan is wasting little time in resuming its "scientific" whale hunte: Its whaling fleet will leave Tuesday for the Antarctic for a three-month, scaled-down hunt, the government says, despite protests. Monday's announcement comes days after Japan submitted its final plan to the International Whaling Commission after the commission's scientific committee said earlier this year it wasn't convinced that whales needed to be killed for research on whale stock management and conservation. Japan says lethal sampling is indispensable to obtain data on the maturing ages of whales. The IWC imposed a commercial ban on whaling in 1986, but Japan has continued to kill whales under a research exemption. This will be the first expedition since the International Court of Justice ruled last year that they weren't truly scientific, forcing Tokyo to revise its Antarctic whaling plans. Last year, Japan did go to the Antarctic, but didn't kill any whales.
Japan's actual catch has fallen in recent years in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat; protests by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have also contributed. Tokyo plans to catch up to 333 minke whales each year over the next 12 years, about one-third of what it used to, the Fisheries Agency and the Foreign Ministry said Monday. The plan will be evaluated after six years. Fifteen environmental and animal rights groups say in a statement that Tokyo should stop using taxpayer money to keep the debt-ridden whaling operation alive. "We strongly demand that the government not start any new research whaling programs, and instead take on new measures that contribute to ocean conservation," they say. Australia, which brought the ICJ case against Japan, said it might send a boat to shadow the Japanese fleet.