Japanese whaling vessels launched on Saturday the last round of what Japan calls scientific research off the Pacific coast ahead of the country's pullout from the International Whaling Commission next month for commercial hunting.
Japan will resume commercial whaling possibly from July in waters of the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone after the withdrawal from the IWC takes effect at the end of next month.
The four ships organized by the Association for Community-Based Whaling based in Fukuoka left Hachinohe port in Aomori Prefecture Saturday morning and caught eight minke whales. They will operate through late this month.
They plan to catch up to 80 whales including those already caught in April.
"Waters off Hachinohe contain rich prey for whales. It could be a pivotal location for future commercial whaling," said Tatsuya Isoda, senior scientist at the Institute of Cetacean Research who leads the research whaling.