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Learning English - Words in the News
13 December, 2006 - Published 16:45 GMT
Japanese begin annual whale hunt
A fin whale being cut up
A fin whale being cut up

Six Japanese whaling ships set sail last month for their annual hunt in the south Atlantic. Japan's fisheries agency says the ships have a target of 850 minke whales and 10 fin whales. However, environmentalists have condemned the hunt in the southern ocean whale sanctuary, which will last for several months.

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Japan hunts whales every year, and is strongly opposed to a ban on commercial whaling imposed two decades ago. It says it hunts whales so that its scientists can measure the size of the populations and their feeding and breeding habits. The meat from the catch is sold and the proceeds used to pay for the research programme.

But environmentalists reject the idea that this is a scientific study. They say politicians and bureaucrats allow the hunt because of intense lobbying by a small but vocal minority. They quote opinion polls suggesting that the majority of Japanese people rarely or never eat whale meat and do not support whaling in the southern ocean.

The reality is that many Japanese you talk to do not understand what all the fuss is about. Japan says the fleet will try to catch several hundred minke whales, which are quite small. The stocks, it says, are relatively plentiful. It will also try to kill 10 fin whales, which are larger and rarer. The catches are authorised by the International Whaling Commission.

Japan has reason to be bolder this year. At last year's IWC meeting, it persuaded a majority of other nations to make a symbolic show of support for an eventual lifting of the ban on commercial whaling. And last month another of its allies, Iceland, decided to resume commercial whaling for the first time in seven years.

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strongly opposed to
completely against something (usually a policy or a decision)

commercial whaling
catching whales to sell for a profit

here, all the fish that have been brought back from one fishing trip

profit, money made from selling something

people who work in offices and are involved in (usually government) organisation and administration – they may make policies and carry out paperwork, but don’t usually get involved in direct action

intense lobbying
trying very hard to persuade an individual or a group to change their actions. This phrase is usually used in the context of government organisations

a small but vocal minority
a low percentage of people who make their views known by big or dramatic actions and lots of publicity

opinion polls
surveys which ask for people’s views on a subject

attention, noisy complaint or protest, very many people examining a problem

there is no shortage of something, not at risk of running out or (here) becoming extinct

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