Japan hopes to resume whale hunt this year, despite opposition by expert panel

TOKYO/LONDON - Japan on Monday said it hoped to resume its Antarctic whale hunt around the end of this year, after providing further information to win over an international panel that says its whaling plan does not prove the need for killing the animals.

Last year, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's decades-old whale hunt in the Southern Ocean should stop, prompting Tokyo to cancel the bulk of its whaling for the 2014/2015 season and submit a scaled-down plan for future hunts.

Japan has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its food culture.

On Monday, an expert panel of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the global body that oversees whales, said it opposed a new Japanese whaling plan that proposed to take 333 minke whales in the Antarctic.

Japan's commissioner to the IWC, Joji Morishita, said the country would furnish additional material before a May meeting of the IWC's scientific panel for a final report, adding that Tokyo hoped the new data would win over the panel. "I believe that we'll move forward with the aim of resuming whaling around the end of the year," Morishita told a news conference, though he did not rule out the possibility of changes to the proposal.

The IWC's expert panel said the information in Japan's latest proposal did not enable it to determine if lethal sampling of whales was necessary. "The current proposal does not demonstrate the need for lethal sampling to achieve those objectives," it said, referring to the plan's key aims.

Japan's determination to resume whaling remains unchanged, said Morishita, echoing statements by government leaders.

Japan took the panel's recommendations seriously, he said, but added, "They haven't unilaterally said that it's no good, neither have they come out on the other side with, 'Go ahead, do whatever research you want to do.'" Japan began what it calls scientific whaling in 1987, a year after an international whaling moratorium took effect, despite growing global opposition.

It also runs a separate whaling programme in the Northern Pacific that was unaffected by the international court ruling.