Whale hunting: Five things you may not know

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Japan says it will continue to hunt whales in the Antarctic, despite an important international ruling that it should stop.

It ceased hunting for more than a year after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision.

However now it will go ahead with a restricted hunt by the end of March. Under this plan, it will reduce the number of minke whales being caught each year by two thirds, so that just over 300 will be killed.

The hunting of whales is an emotive issue.

These huge mammals leave many humans awestruck. People download whale sounds to help relax. Yet we've hunted whales for hundreds of years.

Whale bacon and what it tastes like

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image captionA dead fin whale that was caught by an Icelandic whaler

Whale meat is eaten in Norway, Iceland, Japan, Greenland, and by Inuits and other indigenous people in United States and Canada.

Whale meat is tender, melts in the mouth and has a flavour between fish and beef according to diners, who spoke to the Guardian. In Japan, you can even buy whale bacon.

Whale burgers may not be good for you

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image captionWhale meat is sold in Japan

Environmental and animal welfare groups say the meat contains dangerously high levels of mercury. Mercury is poisonous to humans.

However Kate Sanderson at the ministry of foreign affairs in the Faroe Islands said it was wrong to call it a health hazard.

She said there was already guidance issued about how much to eat. Faroe Islanders have been hunting for pilot whales for centuries and say the hunt is important to satisfy the local population's food needs.

Whales are killed with grenade harpoons

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Whales are killed on commercial hunts by a variety of methods.

Because they are so huge (minkes are 11m or 36 ft long but adult sperm whales can be as large as 20m long ) they are difficult to kill.

Harpoons with grenades are sometimes used.

These explode inside the whale and sometimes do not kill instantaneously. Sir David Attenborough has said in the past that "there is no humane way to kill a whale at sea".

Whales are protected

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image captionA humpback whale

The International Whaling Commission was set up to protect whales in 1947. It has banned commercial whaling since 1987, although countries can have "scientific permits" issued to allow them to hunt whales, or they can legally object to the ban, like Norway has.

Japan hasn't objected, but claims hunting in the Antarctic allows them to gather scientific information about minke whales. The IWC grants permits to indigenous groups to allow them to hunt whales for food - but not to sell on.

The arguments for and against killing whales

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Faroe Islanders say their hunting is sustainable and will not impact overall numbers of whales. They also defend their method of killing the whales, saying that killing them with knives means they die within seconds.

Japan says critics of its whaling are sentimental about whales and disregarding scientific evidence about the sustainability of whaling. We don't know how many minke whales there are in the Antarctic. However the international court ruling stated that it did not believe it was necessary for Japan to kill whales in order to study them.

Animal rights activists say killing whales is cruel.

Many countries who hunt whales say it is part of their culture and necessary for food. They argue it is no different from the killing of other mammals to eat.

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