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Whaling ships set sail Monday on the first commercial hunts in decades, as Japan brushed aside global outrage over its decision to resume what conservationists say is a cruel and outdated practice.
Five vessels from whaling communities left port in northern Japan's Kushiro with their horns blaring and grey tarps thrown over their harpoons.
Japan - Decision - International - Whaling - Commission
Japan's decision to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission and resume commercial hunts was slammed by activists and anti-whaling countries, but has been welcomed by Japanese whaling communities, who celebrated the departure from Kushiro with a send-off ceremony.
"My heart is overflowing with happiness, and I'm deeply moved," said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, addressing a crowd of several dozen politicians, local officials and whalers.
Industry - Whales - People - Whales - Years
"This is a small industry, but I am proud of hunting whales. People have hunted whales for more than 400 years in my home town."
Whaling vessels were also leaving Monday morning from other ports including in Shimonoseki in western Japan.
'Nervous but happy'
The country's Fisheries Agency said Monday it had set a cap for a total catch of 227 whales through the season until late December—52 minke, 150 Bryde's and 25 sei whales.
Bit - Whaling - Hideki - Abe - Whaler
"I'm a bit nervous but happy that we can start whaling," 23-year-old Hideki Abe, a whaler from the Miyagi region in northern Japan, told AFP before leaving.
"I don't think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat any more. I want more people try to taste it at least once."
Flashpoint - Tokyo - Practice - Tradition - Interference
Whaling has long proved a rare diplomatic flashpoint for Tokyo, which says the practice is a Japanese tradition that should not be subject to international interference.
As an IWC member, Japan was banned from commercial hunts of large whales, though it could catch small varieties in waters near its coastline.
But it also exploited a loophole in the...
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