A whaling vessel left a western Japan port on Friday on the last mission of what the government calls a scientific research program before the country withdraws from the International Whaling Commission and starts commercial whaling from July.
The No. 7 Katsu Maru of Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, departed from the town known for its whaling and dolphin-hunting culture to join several other vessels on the mission to catch minke whales between April and June.
The vessels are scheduled to catch 80 whales off Miyagi and Aomori prefectures in northeastern Japan and another 47 whales off Abashiri in the country's northernmost island of Hokkaido to collect data on their age and size among other information.
The Taiji vessel is expected to take part in commercial whaling, which Japan will resume on July 1 for the first time in 31 years, the day after it officially leaves the IWC.
(Fishing boats return to Taiji on Sept. 1, 2017, when dolphin and small whale hunts started)
The ship will hunt minke whales for about a week from its base to be located in Kushiro in Hokkaido, or Hachinohe in Aomori, which have facilities for processing whales.
Japan halted commercial whaling in line with a moratorium adopted in 1982 by the IWC, and has hunted whales for what it claims to be scientific research since 1987, a practice criticized internationally as a cover for commercial whaling.
Tokyo notified the IWC of its pullout in December after its proposal to resume commercial whaling and change decision-making rules at the body was rejected at its annual meeting in September amid a long-standing rift between pro- and anti-whaling nations.