Japanese whalers returned to port Monday with their first catch after resuming commercial whaling for the first time in 31 years, achieving the long-cherished goal of traditionalists despite slowing demand for the meat and changing views on conservation. A fleet of five boats left the northern Japanese port of Kushiro earlier Monday and brought back two minke whales, per the AP. A crane lifted them and placed them on the back of a truck to be taken to a portside factory for processing. Workers in blue plastic overalls poured sake from paper cups onto the first whale to express thanks and celebrate the first catch. It was the first commercial hunt since 1988, when Japan switched to what it called research whaling after commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission.
Japan gave six months' notice that it was withdrawing from the IWC, a move that took effect Sunday. The Fisheries Agency said the hunts will stay within the country's exclusive economic zone, and the catch quota for the rest of this year will be 227 whales, fewer than the 637 that Japan hunted in the Antarctic and the northwestern Pacific in its research program in recent years. The announcement of the quota, originally planned for late June, was delayed until Monday in an apparent move to avoid criticism during this past weekend's Group of 20 summit in Osaka. Fisheries Agency officials said the whale meat will be auctioned at a local fish market Thursday and later hit stores, mainly in the region but possibly in Tokyo. (Elsewhere, a whale surfaced wearing a harness, and nobody is exactly sure why.)