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Japanese whaling town seeks to end hunting ban

WADA, Japan -- Machetes in hand, two-dozen rubber-booted workers hacked into the bloody carcass of a Baird's beaked whale yesterday, as this small Japanese seaside community began its whaling season with its first catch.

The Japanese involved in hunting and slaughtering whales are on the front lines of their country's campaign to overturn the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, an effort boosted this week when the International Whaling Commission narrowly passed a resolution endorsing a resumption of the whale hunt.

But the fight has embittered a town that sees the outside world and foreign environmentalists encroaching on its traditions. Villagers shunned a pair of foreign journalists yesterday, and refused to talk about the whale hunt.

``When I was younger, the whalers came in summer to sell their catch . . . but now that's disappearing," a worker for the town's last whaling company, Gaibo Hogei, said in a telephone interview later. She asked not to be identified, citing the sensitivity of the topic.

Gaibo Hogei owns one of only five commercial whaling boats still plying Japan's coastal waters. Before the moratorium, the company and seven others across Japan hunted minke whales, as well. They are now limited to a combined seasonal catch of 66 Baird's beaked whales, a species not subject to the ban.

That catch isn't enough to sustain Japan's traditional whaling communities, said Hideki Moronuki, an official in the oceanic section of Japan's Fisheries Agency. Wada's population has tumbled since the whaling heydays, and the town has now been consumed by larger Minamiboso City.

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