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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 April, 2005, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Japan in plan to expand whaling
A whale's tail, AP
Anti-whaling groups claim Japan already kills too many whales
Japan is proposing to expand its controversial whaling research programme.

The plan would see Japan nearly double its catch of minke whales and start catching humpback and fin whales.

The plan will be submitted to the International Whaling Commission in May, though it does not need approval.

Any increase in whaling will anger international lobby groups, who say Japan's research programme circumvents a ban on commercial whaling.

A spokeswoman for the International Whaling Commission (IWC) said it had received the Japanese proposal.

According to sources cited by Japan's Kyodo news agency, the new plan is based on Japan's argument that there is a need to increase hunting activities in order to analyze the ecosystem of the Antarctic Ocean.

An official from Japan's Fisheries Agency told the news agency there was "a need to consider surveying such whales... given that there has been an increase in the number of sightings".

But the official added that further details of the proposal could not be disclosed before the IWC meeting.

Japan's research whaling programme has caused controversy since its inception in 1987, just a year after the IWC banned commercial whaling.

Critics say that Japan is using the excuse of scientific research into whales as a pretext to continue selling, and eating, whale meat.

The meat from the animals killed during the research programme is sold commercially.

Whale meat is seen as a delicacy in Japan, and officials in Tokyo maintain that the tradition is an important part of the nation's cultural heritage.

Each year Japan kills about 400 minke whales, as well as a smaller number of Bryde's whales, sei whales and sperm whales.

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