Japan informed the International Whaling Commission on Tuesday that it intended to resume hunting whales for scientific research next year, a move that conservationists called a defiance of the International Court of Justice ruling that Japan's whale kills are illegal.
Since the commission invoked a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, Japan had been claiming an exception to the ban that allows whaling for scientific purposes and had set quotas of 1,035 kills in each of the last few years.
The International Court of Justice ruled in March that Japan's failure to publish results from its purported research demonstrated that its claim of science-related whaling was a cover for banned commercial hunting and ordered a halt.
In the revised program submitted to the commission on Tuesday, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries cut its catch quota to 333 minke whales and said it would no longer hunt the more limited pods of fin and humpback whales.
Joji Morishita, Japan's whaling commissioner, said research findings would be published in the future to comply with the terms of the moratorium exceptions.
"All these activities, as we have been arguing, are perfectly in line with international law, a scientific basis, as well as ICJ judgment language," he told the whaling commission, asserting that Japan's new program to start in late 2015 will be responsive to the court order.
The challenge to Japan's whaling program was brought in 2010 by Australia. The international court, in the Netherlands, ruled that there was no scientific basis for Japan's quotas, nor was there sufficient published findings of its research to justify the size of the projected annual catch.
Conservationists said nothing has changed with the plan submitted by Tokyo on Tuesday.
"Japan's new whaling proposal for the southern ocean sanctuary is neither new nor improved," said Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International. "Despite the ICJ decision condemning the nation's so-called scientific program, Japan is still trying to explain the inexplicable and defend the indefensible. The hunt is for commercial purposes -- not science."
Although Japan set catch quotas of 935 minke whales and 50 each of fin and humpbacks, its annual captures have been significantly lower in recent years due to declining demand for whale meat and increasing intervention by protesters such as the Sea Shepherd group. In 2012, Japan caught 103 minke whales and last year its catch was 251, the Japan Times reported.
Japanese whalers were ordered to suspend operations after the court order, although they plan a nonlethal hunt in spring.
Tokyo doesn't require approval by the International Whaling Commission to resume its lethal hunt, and it was unclear whether Australia would make any legal challenge. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was elected last year, has drawn fire for weakening his country's environmental commitments with expanded mining and logging.
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