Japan began its first commercial whale hunts in more than three decades on Monday, brushing aside outrage over its resumption of a practice that conservationists say is cruel and outdated.
Five vessels from whaling communities left port in northern Japan's Kushiro with their horns blaring and grey tarps thrown over their harpoons. By Monday afternoon, a first whale had been caught and was being transported back to shore.
The hunts come after Japan decided to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission, a move slammed by activists and anti-whaling countries but welcomed by Japanese whaling communities.
Japanese whaling ships are leaving a Kushiro Port to begin a commercial whale hunt for the first time in 31 years, Japanese northern island of Hokkaido
'My heart is overflowing with happiness, and I'm deeply moved,' said Yoshifumi Kai, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Association, addressing a crowd of several dozen politicians, local officials and whalers in Kushiro before the boats left.
'This is a small industry, but I am proud of hunting whales. People have hunted whales for more than 400 years in my home town.'
Whaling vessels were also leaving Monday morning from other ports including in Shimonoseki in western Japan.
The country's Fisheries Agency said Monday it had set a cap for a total catch of 227 whales through the season until late December - 52 minke, 150 Bryde's and 25 sei whales.
'I'm a bit nervous but happy that we can start whaling,' 23-year-old Hideki Abe, a whaler from the Miyagi region in northern Japan, told AFP before leaving.
'I don't think young people know how to cook and eat whale meat any more. I want more people try to taste it at least once.'
A sperm whale sticks out of the sea as it dives in the sea near Hokkaido, Japan
Whaling has long proved a rare diplomatic flashpoint for Tokyo, which says the practice is a Japanese tradition that should not be subject to international interference.
As an IWC member,