TOKYO, Japan (CNN) -- Japan has "temporarily halted" its much-criticized plan for a humpback whale hunt in the seas near Antarctica, said the chief Japanese government spokesman on Friday.
Nobutaka Machimura said Japan is removing humpback whales from its hunting list for now in a gesture to enhance the dialogue at International Whaling Commission, torn in an emotional argument about whaling.
The IWC chairman had asked Japan not to hunt humpback whales while negotiations between Japan and anti-whaling nations continue, said Machimura.
Japan wants rational discussion based on scientific data and hopes the move will calm public opinion in Australia, which has been in an uproar over Japan's plan, Machimura said.
Japan has said the hunt is for scientific research and believes the practice is environmentally and scientifically sound.
Many in the international community believe such hunts amount to needless slaughter and serve only as a a pretext for retrieving whale meat to be sold in markets and restaurants.
Australia's government is urging Japan to end the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean" and plans to "step up efforts to end this senseless and brutal practice, using a range of diplomatic, legal and monitoring and surveillance initiatives."
The government -- in the vanguard of the whale-hunting opposition -- opposes "all commercial and 'scientific' whaling" and argues that there is no "credible scientific justification" for whale-hunting.
It says Japan's whaling vessels "are expected to kill as many as 935 minke whales, 50 threatened humpback whales and 50 endangered fin whales for so-called 'scientific research.' " But the halt does not apply to hunting the minke and fin whales. E-mail to a friend
CNN's Kyung Lah and Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report
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