for National Geographic News
The five Japanese fishing companies that owned the nation's whaling fleet recently announced that they're getting out of the whaling business.
Anti-whaling organizations called the announcement a "victory" for their movement.
"This is an important milestone as we continue our work to end whaling once and for all," said John Hocevar, an oceans specialist with activist group Greenpeace, who is based in Austin, Texas.
Nissui, Japan's second largest marine products company, and four other firms jointly owned whaling company Kyodo Senpaku. This business operated the six-ship whaling fleet on behalf of the Institute of Cetacean Research under the authority of the Japanese government.
In a press release issued on March 24 by Kyodo Senpaku, all five firms announced they will donate their shareholdings to public organizations, including the government-backed research institute.
The Japanese government, meanwhile, promised to continue its controversial annual whale hunt.
Environmentalists say Japan's whale-hunting activities are cruel and may drive rare species to extinction.
The hunt has pitted Japan (see map) against political the United States, the European Union, Australia, and other allies.
A global moratorium on whaling was agreed to by most international governments in 1986. Using a loophole in that ban, Japanese fishers have continued to kill whales under an allowance for scientific research.
But the island nation's officials make no secret of the fact that most of the meat ends up in restaurants and grocery stores.
Whaling proponents have campaigned aggressively to have the moratorium lifted, arguing that whale populations have recovered to sustainable levels during the ban.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES