Anti-whaling activists protest as Japan's whaling fleet heads to sea

TOKYO (AP) -- Anti-whaling activists have been staging protests today as the mother ship of Japan's whaling fleet sets out for the Antarctic on the country's annual hunt.

The environmental group Greenpeace says its members staged protests as the ship (Nisshin Maru) left its port. The rest of the fleet is expected to leave from another port this month, but government officials are refusing to provide details, citing safety concerns.

Japanese whalers plan to catch nearly 1,000 whales. Tokyo says the hunts are part of a scientific program that provides crucial data on populations, feeding habits and distribution of the mammals.

The International Whaling Commission allows the hunts, but opponents call them a cover for commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986.

Australia says it's investing nearly $4 million in non-lethal whale research to show Japan that the animals do not need to be killed in order to be studied. Their campaign will involve aerial surveys, satellite tags and genetic studies.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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