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Last Updated: Friday, 21 December 2007, 09:37 GMT
Japan drops humpback whale hunt
An adult humpback whale breaching
Japan has said the hunt would be too small to affect whale numbers
A controversial Japanese mission to hunt humpback whales in the Antarctic has been temporarily abandoned, a top government official says.

Nobutaka Machimura said the humpback hunt would not go ahead - although the fleet will still hunt about 1,000 other whales in the area.

The BBC's Chris Hogg, in Tokyo, says Japan is now unlikely to chase the humpbacks for at least a year.

The move comes after pressure from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Japan is regularly condemned for its annual whaling missions.

But this year's Antarctic expedition was particularly controversial because, in addition to 935 minke whales and 50 fin whales, the fleet intended to kill up to 50 humpbacks.

It was the first time Japan had targeted the humpbacks since a moratorium was introduced in the mid-1960s - when the species had been hunted almost to extinction.

Australia criticism

Japan says whaling is necessary for scientific research, but other countries say the same goals could be achieved using non-lethal techniques.

"Japan has decided not to catch humpback whales for one year or two," Mr Machimura told reporters.

It's a cruel inhumane hunt of an extremely vulnerable and innocent creature
Mary Moyna, UK

He said the decision had been reached after a meeting with the IWC.

Mr Machimura said the IWC had not been "functioning normally", claiming that the commission had been distorted by ideology.

He said Japan would suspend the humpback whale hunt while the IWC held talks on "normalising" its functions.

Australia had been particularly critical of the humpback hunt, and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith welcomed Japan's decision.

But he reiterated Canberra's view that there was no credible reason for Japan to hunt any species of whale, and pledged to keep up diplomatic efforts to prevent further missions.

On board Greenpeace campaign ship

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