There has been disappointing and worrying news today. The Government of Japan has announced that it intends to return to the Southern Ocean to hunt whales in 2015. It has also officially announced that it will again send its factory whaling ship to hunt whales in the North Pacific, although it plans to target fewer whales.

The announcement confirms that although no sperm whales will be targeted, Minke, Bryde’s and endangered Sei whales will be targeted in the North Pacific in the coming weeks. This news comes just weeks after this year’s Antarctic whale hunt was cancelled, following a March ruling by the UN’s International Court of Justice that it was illegal.

That ruling clearly confirmed that so-called ‘scientific research’ whaling in the Southern Ocean was being done for commercial purposes. The judgment led to an urgent review of whaling plans by the Government of Japan, in the midst of international criticism, as well as some internal political pressure.

There have been other significant developments too: Japanese internet giantRakuten announced it would stop selling whale meat after a campaign by our colleagues EIA, and shipments of endangered fin whale meat en route to Japan have been exposed, blocked, and challenged by Greenpeace inEuropeAfrica, and Canada.

Recent media reports from Japan suggest there has been a frantic debate inside the Japanese government. The Government of Japan had already stated that the court case, despite focusing solely on Antarctic whaling, would have ramifications for the North Pacific hunt too. Today’s confirmation to carry on whaling comes just days before President Obama’s much-anticipated visit to Japan. It will surely cast a cloud on his conversations with Prime MinisterAbe.