TOKYO • Japan will dispatch a whaling fleet to the Antarctic after a one-year suspension, the government said, defying international criticism and a United Nations legal ruling that the "research" expedition is a commercial hunt.
"The research ships will depart for new whale research in the Antarctic on Dec 1, 2015," the Fisheries Agency said yesterday in a statement on its website.
Tokyo had come under global pressure to stop hunts that opponents decry as inhumane but that Japan says are an inherent part of its traditional culture.
The UN's top legal body judged last year that Japan's so-called scientific whaling activity in the Southern Ocean was a disguise for commercial hunts.
The agency's statement said the "research period" for the mission would be from late December to early March.
Japan had earlier flagged that it planned to resume the hunts, drawing criticism from the Australian environment minister, who said "there is no need to kill whales in the name of research". Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd also warned Japan on Sunday against resuming whale hunts in the Antarctic and called on the Australian government to intervene.
Japan has hunted whales under an exemption in the global whaling moratorium that allows for lethal research, although it makes no secret of the fact that meat from the mammals is processed into food. It says the whale population is big enough for sustainable whaling.
But the highest court of the UN, the International Court of Justice, ruled in March last year that the annual Southern Ocean expedition was a commercial hunt masquerading as science to skirt the international moratorium.
A Fisheries Agency official said earlier yesterday that Japan had submitted a new plan to the International Whaling Commission reflecting recommendations the scientific committee made in June.
"As we seek to resume commercial whaling, it is crucial to get information as to whales' migration, reproductive rates and the age pyramid of the population for setting catch quotas," the fisheries official said. Lethal whaling is necessary "to get this kind of essential information", he said.