An international court ruled last year that Japan should stop hunting whales in the waters around Antarctica.
But Japan is allowed to hunt whales for scientific research. Critics complain that while the Japanese say they are conducting research, they are really hunting whales to sell as meat.
Both Australia and New Zealand are against the whaling project.
Those countries are closest to the waters where the Japanese boats will be working.
The Japanese whaling fleet set off on its latest hunt on Tuesday.
In March 2014, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that the Japanese whaling program in the waters between Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica was illegal. The hunt and kill was not scientific research, it says.
Japan says catching and killing some whales furthers scientific research. Officials from Australia and New Zealand say calling the work research is a cover-up.
Japan argues that the ICJ made its decision based on an older research program that is no longer used.
Japan says its new program is much smaller and takes into account the ICJ decision.
Japan says it will limit its hunt to 333 minke whales this year, two-thirds fewer than in the past.
But this year is only the first year of a 12-year-program.
That means almost 4,000 whales will be killed over the next 12 years.
Australia’s Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, says Japan should have let the ICJ review its plan before launching its ships on Tuesday.
Hunt says "Japan cannot unilaterally decide whether it has adequately addressed the scientific committee’s questions.”
Alex Gillespie is an international law and conservation professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand. He says Japan adjusted its whale hunting program since the ICJ did not specifically outlaw hunting whales.
It only says the older program had to stop.
Gillespie says “the problem is all the scientists who are looking at it are still saying there is no scientific need to do lethal scientific research in Antarctica.”
Scientists say the Japanese research can be done without killing whales.
The meat from these dead whales often ends up in restaurants and on supermarket shelves. But an Australian news outlet reported that whale meat is less popular in Japan than it used to be.
A report from the Australian Associated Press news agency in 2014 says whale meat does not sell as well in Japan. And, the news agency reported, organizations that protest the whale hunts have helped cut-back the catch.
Representatives from both Australia and New Zealand say they plan to continue diplomatic efforts to make Japan change its mind about hunting whales.
I’m Anne Ball.
Isabela Cocoli and Phil Mercer wrote this story for VOA News. Dan Friedell adapted it for Learning English. Kathleen Struck was the editor.
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Words in This Story
conservation – n. the protection of animals, plants, and natural resources
cover-up – n. an effort to hide an illegal act
fleet – n. a group of ships or vehicles that move or work together or that are controlled or owned by one company
lethal – adj. causing or able to cause death
outlaw – v. to make (something) illegal
skeptical – adj. having or expressing doubt about something (such as a claim or statement)
unilateral – adj. involving only one group or country