Five Japanese ships set sail yesterday with the intent of killing 440 minke whales, under the aegis of a program that allows whaling for scientific research. The whales killed will be consumed as gourmet meat back in Japan. Commercial whaling has been banned since 1986, but Japan has long insisted that the ban should be lifted and that species like the minke are plentiful. The five ships will collect data on the death rates and living habits of the whales and will submit the data to the International Whaling Commission, but Greenpeace argues that the Japanese should study the whales by watching them, not killing them. Greenpeace says that about $100 million in whale meat harvested by Japanese research hunting was sold on the market last year.

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