Japan resumed commercial whale hunting Monday after a hiatus of more than 30 years, defying calls from conservation groups to protect animals once hunted to the brink of extinction.

Now whalers, who have long depended on government subsidies for their survival, face the much tougher challenge of defying basic economic reality: The market for their product is declining while labour costs across the nation are on the rise. Japanese production of whale meat peaked in 1962, and the taste is generally preferred by an older generation.

As commercial whaling ships prepared for the start of the season, officials in the

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