Japanese whaling ships began a five-month expedition to kill about 400 minke whales in Antarctic waters. The government says the hunt is for scientific research. However, most of the meat from the slaughtered whales ends up being sold as food, and critics call the research programme commercial hunting in disguise. The International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986 to protect the endangered mammals, but a year later approved restricted hauls for Japanâs research programme. The expeditionâs launch comes as Japan seeks approval from the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species for limited commercial killing of Brydeâs and minke whales. In late September, Japanese ships returned from the northwest Pacific Ocean with 194 whales, including 100 minke, 50 Brydeâs, five sperm whales and 39 sei, listed as an endangered species in 1976.