The Japanese whaling fleet left port in Innoshima today en route to Antarctica with over 1000 whales in its sight. It will take the whaling fleet about three weeks to reach the Southern Ocean beneath Australia.
When they get there, the Government of Japan's annual 'research' expedition to Antarctic waters plans to kill up to 935 minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 of our beloved humpback whales.
"Japan's so-called scientific whaling is nothing less than commercial whaling in disguise. You don't need to kill whales to study them," said Darren Kindleysides, Director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS).
This is the fifth whaling season for the Japanese Government's controversial and confrontational 'scientific whaling' program known as 'JARPA II' and the 22nd consecutive year Japan has hunted whales under the guise of scientific research. In that time, Japan's whalers have killed more than 9000 whales in the Southern Ocean.
"Hunting hundreds of whales and calling it research breaks international law and defies the global ban on whaling brought in by the International Whaling Commission in 1986. How many more whaling seasons must be endured, how many more whales must die under this charade?" Kindleysides said.
This whaling season, the whalers are planning to kill 50 humpback whales - this would break a four decade ban on hunting humpbacks and has ramifications for Australia's thriving whale watching industry.
"The whalers have our beloved humpbacks in their sights - the same whales that migrate to Australia during winter, the same whales that support our multi-million dollar whale watching industries on our east and west coasts."
Research  has shown that whale watching is worth approximately $300million dollars a year in Australia, with humpbacks the backbone of our whale watching industries in many locations. Japan withdrew plans to kill humpbacks in 2007 and 2008 following international outcry and pressure from countries like Australia, but their self-appointed quota of 50 humpbacks in the 2009 season still stands.
With the recent change of Government in Japan, there are suggestions the Japanese Government is reviewing the funding for the annual whaling expeditions, a hugely subsidised and controversial hunt that has stained Japan's standing on the international stage.
"The Australian Government must demand Japan recall its whaling fleet immediately. It is time to tell the new Japanese Government to put their unlawful whaling program on ice. If diplomacy cannot prevent another season of whale slaughter in the Southern Ocean the Rudd Government must deliver on its election promise to pursue legal action against Japan before international courts and tribunals to end whaling once and for all," concluded Kindleysides.
 Research undertaken by the International Fund for Animal Welfare evaluating the economic value of whale and dolphin watching in Australia.
Ingrid Neilson on (07) 3393 5811