Ambassadors and representatives of 15 nations joined together yesterday at the Japanese Foreign Ministry to protest Japan’s whale hunting, which the country claims is done for scientific research. President Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, among other heads of state, have sent letters of protest to the Japanese government over the issue, and the U.S. Commerce Department is threatening to impose trade sanctions. “Japan is clearly violating a global consensus,” wrote Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Al Gore’s running mate, in an Aug. 2 letter calling for sanctions. The international community has long disapproved of Japan’s “scientific” hunting of minke whales, but when Japanese officials this year expanded their hunt to include sperm and Bryde’s whales, species thought to be more threatened, they set off a storm of protest. Japan is refusing to back down, saying that whale hunting is part of its culture.