IMAGE: HUMPBACK WHALE
David Brooks  /  AFP - Getty Images
Humpback whales like this one, seen Juen 27 in New Zealand's Cook Strait, are being monitored via satellite tags under a new program sponsored by Greenpeace.
updated 10/11/2007 11:21:37 AM ET 2007-10-11T15:21:37

Greenpeace announced a satellite-based tracking system to monitor endangered South Pacific humpback whales Wednesday, saying it is not necessary to kill the animals as Japan does to study them.

The conservation group used the announcement of its humpback monitoring project to lambaste Japan's scientific whaling program that has killed thousands of whales as part of what it calls necessary research.

Humpback whales from Rarotonga and New Caledonia have been satellite tagged and are "now being tracked in order to produce vital data on their movements, habitat use and population structure," said Greenpeace New Zealand's oceans campaigner, Mike Hagler.

"The tagging program is producing real scientific results" on whale migrations from breeding grounds in the South Pacific to feeding grounds of the Southern Ocean "without firing a single harpoon," he said.

"The Great Whale Trail non-lethal tracking program is intended to show that whales don't need to die for science," he added.

Japanese data questioned
"Over the last 20 years of Japanese 'scientific research,' thousands of whales have been killed, yet the quality and relevance of the scientific data (produced) ... is remarkably low," Hagler said.

He said Japan plans to hunt up to 50 humpback whales, 50 fin whales and 935 minke whales in Antarctic waters this year as part of its scientific whaling program.

This is the first time Japan has included humpback and fin whale species in its annual whale hunt, under an International Whaling Commission-allowed scientific program.

Many environmental groups object to the annual whale kill, but Japan argues the program is needed to gauge whale populations and study their breeding and feeding habits.

Much of the whale meat ends up being sold as a delicacy and used in Japan's school lunch program.

Japan's whaling fleet is expected to sail for the southern ocean some time next month.

Response from Japan
Japan's Fisheries Agency official Hideki Moronuki said that the method Greenpeace is promoting is not enough to collect the necessary information.

"You can't tell, with a satellite, if a whale is male or female, how old it is, if it is pregnant, or what it eats. There are too many things you can't tell," he said. "To say you can tell everything from a satellite is a 100 percent sham."

Moronuki says Japan combines both lethal and non-lethal methods and "it is best to do both," adding Tokyo has no immediate plans to change its current research methods.

Hagler said Greenpeace fears that humpback whales "from small, threatened populations" in the South Pacific where many nations have whale-watching industries, "could be among those killed by the Japanese fleet."

Last year's southern ocean whale hunt by Japan ended early after Japan's whaling fleet factory ship, Nisshin Maru, was crippled by fire and one crew member killed.

Background on the Greenpeace program is online at www.greenpeace.org.nz/whale-trail

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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