WHALES ON THE NET
By RAY LILLEY, Associated Press Writer
WELLINGTON, New Zealand, 1st March, 2007 - Anti-whaling nations New Zealand and Australia vowed Thursday to continue the fight to end Japan's annual whale hunts, warning that its plans to kill humpback whales off Antarctica in December could spark outrage. The warning comes just a day after Japan ended its latest southern whale program following a deadly fire that crippled the mother ship of its whaling fleet and left it drifting near the Antarctic coast. A crewman died in the fire.
While New Zealand warned the incident could have sparked an "ecological disaster," Japanese officials had said it posed no threat to the environment and will not lead Japan to call off future kills.
"The (whaling) program will resume in December in the Antarctic," a spokesman for Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research, Glenn Inwood, said Thursday. It would hunt minke, fin and humpback whales.
Japan claims its whaling program provides crucial scientific data for the International Whaling Commission Ñ which sanctions the annual hunts Ñ on populations, feeding habits and distribution of the mammals in the seas near Antarctica.
New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said the hunt due to resume in southern waters in December was likely to cause "further outrage."
"The Japanese whaling program next year envisages killing humpback whales. Humpbacks are one of the most iconic whale species. I know this program is going to generate enormous hostility from round the world," he said.
New Zealand would voice its opposition to the program with the Japanese at the IWC's next annual meeting, in Alaska in May, he told New Zealand's National Radio.
Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed the news that the current hunt was over, saying a large number of minke whales the Japanese had been expected to kill had been saved.
"The Australian government will continue to fight with many nations around the world to ensure that scientific whaling ceases," Turnbull said.
Carter said the whale hunting season had been a major embarrassment for Japan.
"We could have had a real ecological disaster. I hope the Japanese draw a lesson from this Ñ Antarctica and the southern whale sanctuary is a pristine place and should be left that way," he said.
Japan's Fisheries Agency said it had lodged a strong protest over "vicious and reckless" attempts by anti-whalers to sabotage the hunt, which killed 508 whales out of a targeted 860.
The program has long been the target of environmental groups, who say it is a pretext for Japan to keep its whalers afloat despite an international ban on commercial whaling imposed by the IWC in 1986.
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