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Japan resumes commercial whaling after more than 30 years

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Japan has resumed commercial whaling in the country for the first time in more than three decades — despite outrage from activists over the practice. On Monday, the country officially left the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which regulates whaling globally.

Japanese whalers can now hunt for minke, Bryde's and sei whales, which are all protected by the IWC and are at risk of endangerment, in Japanese coastal waters. According to Agence France-Presse news agency, five vessels from whaling communities left a port in Kushiro with their harpoons. Photos later showed a boat returning with a minke whale.

A captured minke whale is unloaded from a whaling ship at a port in Kushiro, Hokkaido Prefecture on July 1. Japanese whalers brought ashore their first catches Monday as they resumed commercial hunting after a three-decade hiatus, brushing aside criticism from activists who say the practice is cruel and outdated. Kazuhiro Nogi / AFP/Getty Images

The fisheries ministry in Japan has set a kill cap for the season at 55 minke, 150 Bryde's and 25 sei whales for a total of 227 animals. Shigeto Hase, who is the head of the agency in Japan, told The BBC that the return of commercial whaling ensures the tradition can live on. 

"The resumption of commercial whaling has been an ardent wish for whalers across the country," he said, adding that the practice would ensure "the culture and way of life will be passed on to the next generation."

Before setting sail on Monday, one whaler told AFP that he was "happy" he could start whaling again. 

"I don't think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat anymore. I want more people [to] try to taste it at least once."

As world leaders gathered for the G20 summit last week, opponents of commercial whaling tried to solicit international pressure to stop Japan from resuming the hunting of the cetaceans. In an open letter published Friday, organizations called on G20 leaders to intervene and publicly condemn commercial whaling. The letter was signed by a number of celebrities, including Stephen Fry, Dr. Jane Goodall and Ricky Gervais.

In December, Japan announced it would withdraw from the IWC after failing to convince the commission to allow it to resume commercial whaling. 

The IWC banned commercial whaling throughout the world in 1986, but Japan continued doing so under an exemption, claiming it was for scientific purposes. Following the ban, the country has killed between 200 to 1,200 whales each year, according to the IWC. Critics of the practice say whales that were killed for research usually ended up being sold for meat anyway.

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