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Japan plans to commercially hunt vulnerable fin whales, enraging conservationists

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Japan's commercial whaling activities could soon expand to include fin whales, government officials announced last week.

The move, which experts have heavily condemned, would increase the number of whale species Japan hunts in its territorial waters to four; the other three species are the Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni), the sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis) and the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). 

For now, it appears the decision to include fin whales hinges on public approval of changes to the country's marine resource management policy, according to the marine conservation organization OceanCare

The fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) is the second-largest whale species on Earth, after the blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus). Fin whales are named for the distinctive fin that protrudes from their lower back, and they can grow up to 85 feet (26 meters) long. They are found across all the world's oceans. In the first half of the 20th century, however, fin whale populations nose-dived due to commercial whaling and they are still recovering from the shock, according to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which regulates modern whaling practices.

In 1982, the IWC introduced a moratorium on commercial whaling that went into effect in 1986. Although Japan stopped commercial hunts after 1986, the country resumed taking whales for what it said was scientific research one year later. In 2019, Japan withdrew from the IWC and began catching whales commercially once again, although its whaling activities are now restricted to the country's territorial waters in the North Pacific Ocean.

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On May 9, officials announced that Japan could start hunting fin whales soon. "Whales are important food resources and should be sustainably utilized, based on scientific evidence," Yoshimasa Hayashi, Japan's minister for foreign affairs, said at a news conference.

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