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An adult and sub-adult Minke whale dragged aboard the Nisshin Maru, a Japanese whaling vessel. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service

Despite a global ban on commercial whaling more than 30 years ago, Japan has caught about 200-1,200 whales every year since 1987—including pregnant and juvenile ones—under the exception of "scientific research." Opponents have fiercely criticized this research program as just a cover so the whales can be killed for human consumption.

Now, the national broadcaster NHK reports that the Japanese government wants to fully resume commercial whaling by pulling out of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Commercial whaling was paused in 1986 by the IWC because some whales were hunted to near extinction.

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Minke whales dragged aboard the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru. Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia

Japan is proposing a slew of rule changes at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil this week that conservationists worry would ultimately lift a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.

Japan, which launched a "scientific whaling" program in 1987 as a loophole to the moratorium, has killed more than 15,600 whales in the Antarctic since the ban (including juvenile and pregnant minke whales), according to a report released last month by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).

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For years, the Japanese government has hunted whales under the name of "scientific research." Now officials are angling to resume commercial whaling at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting this September in Brazil.

At the meeting, officials "will propose setting a catch quota for species whose stocks are recognized as healthy by the IWC scientific committee," Hideki Moronuki, an official in charge of whaling at Japan's fisheries agency, told Agence France-Presse.

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More than 120 pregnant female minke whales were killed this year in the Antarctic Ocean as part of Japan's controversial "scientific whaling" program.

The numbers were revealed in a newly released report presented earlier this month at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) Scientific Committee meeting in Bled, Slovenia.

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Photo credit: Sea Shepherd Global

Japan's whaling vessels returned to port with 333 minke whales on Friday after its months-long Antarctic hunt.

The Fisheries Ministry said the whales were killed in the name of science.

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Ninety percent of the minke whales hunted and killed each year in Norwegian waters are female and " almost all" of them are pregnant, according to a documentary aired earlier this month on NRK, a government-owned public broadcasting company.

The documentary, Slaget om kvalen ("Battle of Agony"), shows grisly footage of Norway's whaling industry, including one bloody scene where a fisherman cuts open a whale and removes its fetus.

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