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Japan To Accelerate Whale Kill

Japan plans to double its whale catch in the northwest Pacific Ocean and add sei whales to the list, a government official said Thursday, rebuffing international criticism of the country's whaling program.

Fifty sei whales will be caught during the June-October season as part of Japan's research of whale feeding habits, migrations and life cycles, said Takanori Ohashi, an official with Japan's Fisheries Agency.

The government submitted the research whaling plans to the International Whaling Commission last Friday, Ohashi said.

Under the research program, Japan will continue to hunt 150 minks, 50 Bryde's and 10 sperm whales in the northwest Pacific each year as well as the sei whales, Ohashi said. Sei whales grow as long as 85 feet.

Over the past two years, Japan caught a total of 246 whales in the northwest Pacific. Japan also hunts around 400 minkes annually in the Antarctic.

Ohashi said the government decided to target sei whales for research purposes.

The hunt is permitted by the IWC, but opponents say Japan's research is commercial whaling in disguise. Whale meat is often sold later in Japanese restaurants.

Based on visual research conducted since 1994 by the Japan's Fisheries Agency, the Japanese government estimates there are around 100,000 sei whales in waters around the world, including about 28,000 in the northwest Pacific, Ohashi said.

Ohashi said Japan will make its final decision on the hunt of sei whales after listening to opinions at IWC's annual meeting, which will be hosted by Japan and held in Shimonoseki, 510 miles southwest of Tokyo, in late May.

Japan's began research whaling in 1987 after the IWC banned commercial whaling a year earlier.

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