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Japan whalers hunting humpback whales

Japan's biggest-ever scientific whale hunt in the South Pacific was set to leave port today, with orders to kill up to 50 humpack whales.

The expedition will also hunt 935 Antartic minke whales, 50 fin whales along with the humpback.

Greenpeace and the animal rights activist group Sea Shepherd said they will be tracking the South Pacific hunt. http://www.startribune.com/722/story/1557909.html

"These whales don't have to die," said a Greenpeace spokesman, Junichi Sato. "Humpbacks are very sensitive and live in close-knit pods. So even one death can be extremely damaging." http://www.startribune.com/722/story/1557909.html

Accroding to Common Dreams, Newscenter.org, two Greenpeace ships Esperanza and Arctic Sunrise launched inflatable boats on Wednesday to harass Japanese "catcher boats," by positioning them between the whale and harpoon gun. http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1222-02.htm

Prime Minister John Howard told reporters in Sydney, "I do not support action which endangers lives or breaks the law." http://www.commondreams.org/headlines05/1222-02.htm

Four decades ago, humpback whales were hunted to near-extinction and have been off-limits since 1963. The humpback whales are listed as "vulnerable" by the World Conservation Union. http://www.startribune.com/722/story/1557909.html

According to Japanese fisheries officials, the animals' population have returned to sustainable levels.

"Humpback whales in our research area are rapidly recovering," said the Fisheries Agency's whaling chief, Hideki Moronuki. http://www.startribune.com/722/story/1557909.html