Japan Fleet Kills 333 Whales in Antarctic Hunt
The fleet had set sail for the Southern Ocean in December, with plans to kill whales, despite a worldwide moratorium.
Japanese whalers returned to port Thursday after an Antarctic hunt that killed more than 300 of the mammals, the government said.
The fleet had set sail for the Southern Ocean in December, with plans to slaughter 333 minke whales, despite a worldwide moratorium and opposition led by Australia and New Zealand.
Japan's Fisheries Agency announced Thursday that the target number of "scientific research" kills had been achieved.
The 2015/16 season came after a one-year hiatus prompted by a ruling by the United Nations' International Court of Justice (ICJ), which said the annual hunt was a commercial venture masquerading as science.
Under the International Whaling Commission, to which Japan is a signatory, there has been a moratorium on hunting whales since 1986.
But Japan persists in the practice using a loophole in the ban that allows for lethal research.
Tokyo claims it is trying to prove the whale population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting, and says it has to kill the mammals to carry out its research properly.
However, it makes no secret of the fact that whale meat ends up on dinner tables and is served up in school lunches.
In response to the ICJ ruling, Japan's 2014-15 mission carried out only "non-lethal research" such as taking skin samples and doing headcounts.
However, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had been determined to resume the hunt.
The haul announced Thursday is bigger than it has been in recent years when the mission has been hampered by a confrontational campaign on the high seas by environmentalist group Sea Shepherd.
The group, which attracts support from celebrities including actress Brigitte Bardot, has harangued Japanese vessels in the Southern Ocean, and has claimed success in drastically reducing the catch.
In the 2013-14 season, just 251 minke whales were caught, while the figure was only 103 in the season before.
That compares with historic catches of around 850.
The returning fleet arrived early Thursday at Shimonoseki port in western Japan, the fisheries agency said.
Besides the kills, the agency also said it conducted non-lethal research such as observation, the taking of skin samples from live whales and attaching tracking devices to whales.
"Attaching GPS devices helps us study minke whales' migration routes by tracking them for several days," agency official Hiroyuki Morita told AFP.
Environmental campaign group Greenpeace on Thursday labelled the hunt "unnecessary" and said it violated the UN court ruling.
"It is completely unacceptable for the Japanese government to ignore the ICJ's findings and furthermore, completely unnecessary to go ahead with lethal research," said Greenpeace Japan executive director Junichi Sato.
Japan has hunted whales for centuries, and their meat was a key source of protein in the immediate post-World War II years when the country was desperately poor.
But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they "never" or "rarely" eat whale meat.
Some experts say that Japan's refusal to give up the Antarctic mission despite censure by the international court is largely due to a small group of powerful politicians.
A whale is seen on the deck of the Japanese whaling factory ship Nisshin Maru in the Antarctic.
The new IMAX 3-D film "Humpback Whales" follows the marine mammals during their 10,000-mile migration. The film opens nationwide on Friday, Feb. 13. Pictured: A whale and her calf show their flukes off the coast of Maui. Baby humpbacks emulate their mothers’ social behavior as they learn important survival skills.
A mother humpback whale and her calf. The baby may grow to a length of nearly 60 feet and weigh as much as 50 tons.
A humpback whale and calf surface off the coast of Maui.
Director Greg MacGillivray films humpbacks with an IMAX camera while on location in Maui, along with assistant cameraman Robert Walker (left) and marine biologist Jim Darling.
A group of humpback whales bubble-net feed off the coast of Alaska. This is the one of the most complex social behaviors of any marine mammal.
An adult humpback whale breaches off the coast of Maui. Males create a song that lasts as long as 20 minutes at time, sometimes for hours, and is believed to be used in mating.
Marine biologist Jim Darling observes a humpback whale from a research vessel off the coast of Maui.
A humpback whale surfaces off the coast of Tonga.
Two humpbacks swim gracefully together.
The whales, now considered endangered, where hunted nearly to extinction until a moratorium on humpback whaling in 1966.
A humpback whale breaches in Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Humpback whales typically travel in pods. An estimated 80,000 humpbacks live today in every ocean.