A small Japanese fleet caught its first whales yesterday as Japan officially resumed its commercial whale hunts after more than three decades.
In Kushiro, a gritty port city on the northern-most main island of Hokkaido, five whaling ships were waved out of harbour in a brief ceremony early yesterday.
The crew, in orange life vests, took positions on the decks as the blue-hulled ships sailed out of Kushiro, some with red banners fluttering from their masts. By afternoon, one ship had returned with a roughly 8m-long minke whale. It was winched up from the vessel and taken off to be weighed and butchered.
Japan announced in December that it was leaving the International Whaling Commission to resume hunting after years of campaigns by industry supporters and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose constituency includes a city that has long been involved in commercial whaling.
Whaling has proven to be a rare diplomatic flashpoint for Tokyo, which says the practice is a Japanese tradition that should not be subjected to international interference. Conservationists say the practice is cruel and outdated.