SKEPTICS SAY WHALE OPERATION IS A COVERUP

What does Japan do with the more than 300 minkes its research scientists catch and kill?

After the whales are studied, the Japanese consume the whale meat, which is delicately served on dinner plates.

Last May, a whale-meat feast attended by Japanese politicians and celebrities, was held to show the world that whales are edible and the Japanese love them. The effort, however, only aggravated opponents of whaling.

Skeptics view the current Japanese research operation as a coverup. "ICR's [Institute of Cetacean Research] interest lies in acquiring whale meat and maintaining the whaling facilities," says anti-whaling activist Naoko Funahashi in a phone interview aboard the MV Greenpeace in the Antarctic Ocean.

ICR officials acknowledge that their operation serves to preserve the tradition of whaling, in addition to its scientific purpose. The research employs some 120 whalers, and the whaling ship is provided by a fisheries company.

"I think we need to have a long-term perspective on basic food sources and think about how we might feed the exploding world population in the future," says Fukuzo Nagasaki, ICR director general. "Consuming whale meat is less harmful to the environment and far more efficient than raising cattle, which destroys the land.'

The approximately 1,200 tons of meat from 327 whales captured last year was sold at a fixed price to local wholesalers, and then auctioned off to retailers. The profits are used to help pay the 2.5 billion yen needed for the scientific expeditions, ICR officials say.

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