Canberra, July 29; Australian Associated Press
Japan has hit back at criticism that its slaughter of pregnant minke whales in the Southern Ocean is endangering the species.
The Humane Society International this week highlighted a Japanese government report showing almost 60 percent of female minke whales killed by Japanese whaling fleets in Antarctic waters were pregnant.
The environmental group said the report showed 853 minke and 10 fin whales were slaughtered last summer.
Of the 391 female minke whales killed, 224 were pregnant with 227 foetuses.
The Humane Society said the figures showed Japan was "killing the future generation" of whales.
But Japan, which is seeking to lift a ban on commercial whaling in the Antarctic, today said high pregnancy rates among female minke whales indicated the species’ future was not under threat and could sustain a commercial catch.
Tokyo’s Institute of Cetacean Research said its studies showed 93.8 percent of female minke whales became pregnant during the summer feeding months in the Southern Ocean.
"This is very significant because it demonstrates the population is robust," the institute’s director-general, Hiroshi Hatanaka, said in a statement.
"The Antarctic minke whale reproduces consistently every year.
"Such high productivity demonstrates that the population is certainly well able to sustain a commercial hunt."
Dr Hatanaka said the taking of 853 minke whales a year did not endanger the species, which he believed numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
Japan uses a loophole in the whaling moratorium to conduct an annual hunt of minke whales in the Southern Ocean for "scientific" purposes but critics maintain it is a commercial hunt.
Japanese whaling fleets slaughtered almost 1100 whales in the Antarctic last summer.
Japan has been accused of bribing poor nations, some of them land-locked, to try to secure the votes it needs at the International Whaling Commission to end the 20-year-old whaling ban.
Australia and New Zealand, which have large whale watching industries, are chief among Japan’s critics.
AAPsl 29/07/06 14-15NZ