Japan ready to spare humpbacks for another year: official

TOKYO (AFP) — Japan is ready to spare humpback whales from its Antarctic hunt for another year if international whaling talks make progress, a senior Japanese official said Wednesday.

After strong protests led by Australia, Japan last year dropped plans to start hunting humpback whales for the first time in four decades.

Japan is willing to work with the current chair of the International Whaling Commission by suspending its humpback hunt if there are signs of progress at the IWC, said Japan's chief whaling negotiator Joji Morishita.

"The final decision will be made at the last moment, I guess. But ... the IWC process is moving so I assume that the same situation will apply to the coming research season," he told a press conference.

The current chair of the IWC, William Hogarth of the United States, has reportedly urged Japan to spare the humpbacks for another year to avoid driving a wedge into an already divided commission.

The 80-nation IWC agreed at its annual meeting last week in Santiago to create a 24-nation working group to recommend solutions ahead of next year's meeting in Portugal's Madeira island.

It was unable to bridge the gap between anti-whaling countries such as Australia and pro-whaling nations, such as Japan, Iceland and Norway, in a long-standing dispute over commercial whaling.

But Morishita said the meeting was less tense than in past years.

"People are actually fed-up with the very acrimonious atmosphere at the IWC," he said.

Japan carries out the hunt using a loophole in a 1986 IWC moratorium on commercial whaling that allows it to kill some 1,000 whales a year for "lethal research". Only Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium outright.

Japan had planned to harpoon 50 humpback whales on its most recent Antarctic mission, the first time since the 1960s that Tokyo would have hunted the species, which are major attractions for Australian whale-watchers.

The fleet went ahead with a hunt of other whales during its five-month voyage but returned in April, having caught little more than half of the original target of about 950 whales, after harassment by environmentalists.

AFP

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