A THIRD of the whales harpooned by Japan in the Antarctic last summer were pregnant, it was claimed yesterday.
Conservation group Humane Society International (HSI) said Japan’s own figures, revealed in secret documents discovered at the International Whaling Commission meeting being held this week, showed the “true, disgusting nature” of the country’s whale hunting.
Japan’s annual hunt, which it claims is a scientific study, took a horrific toll on female whales, the HSI said.
The HSI said data from Japan’s 2008/2009 hunt showed of 679 whales it reported killing, 304 were female. The data showed 192 of the whales were pregnant. Four were lactating.
“The four lactating females would each have had a calf that would have starved to death,” HSI Australia’s director Michael Kennedy said.
Mr Kennedy said the Japanese data also contained “gruesome” details of how whale foetuses were treated after being torn from their mothers on board the whaling fleet’s factory ship.
“They report they measure the length and weight of the foetus, they measure their eyes and take skin samples from the foetus for what they call genetic studies,” Mr Kennedy said.
“It is gruesome, useless information which, if it was even needed, could be found without dismembering a foetus.”
The details of Japan’s impact on female whales was contained in what is known as a “Cruise Report”, secretly sent to the IWC’s scientific committee before the IWC meeting in Portugal.
During the 2007-2008 hunt Australia was shocked when The Daily Telegraph published photos of a minke whale and her calf being hauled aboard a Japanese factory ship to be dismembered.
HSI vice president Kitty Block said Japan’s whale hunt should be condemned and was conducted in a whale sanctuary under the guise of science.
“The fact is this hunt is commercial and killing pregnant females makes it all the more egregious,” Ms Block said.
Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett, who is at the IWC meeting, said Japan had killed more than 13,000 whales in the name of research since a moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986.
One of Mr Garrett’s tactics to try to end Japanese whaling is to bring it under the direct control of the IWC, something Japan has been vigorously opposing.
Japan is also pushing hard for a “coastal whaling quota” – which would allow it to kill whales in its own waters without the pretence of scientific study – which conservation groups said was a return to commercial whaling.
This week the Australian Government announced what it called the largest study of Antarctic whales.
The joint Australian-New Zealand scientific expedition will steam to Antarctica this summer. No whales will be killed during the research.