Japan Fleet Returns Amid Controversy After Killing 333 Whales In The Antarctic

A whaling fleet from Japan returned from the Antarctic on Thursday with a haul of more than 300 whales, angering critics who oppose the killings, which are done in the name of scientific research.

Two years ago, the International Court of Justice (IJC) ruled that Japan's Antarctic whaling program was not so scientific as it had been claimed, and Tokyo was under order to stop killing the whales, according to the New York Times.

Whaling commercially was banned in 1986, but whaling for scientific research is not. Some who oppose the loophole say it's a cover for commercial whaling because the surplus that is not used for scientific research is sold. Some of the meat is even used in school lunches.

Japan whale meat
Whale meat is an important part of the culture in Japan, and critics of the Japanese scientific expedition, which kills minke whales, say Japan uses a loophole in the whaling ban to ensure it can still consume whale meat gotten from the scientific hunts. [Photo by Eugene Hoshiko/AP]

Japan conducted studies on whales without killing them last year using skin samples and population counts, but this year claimed that the scientific research was not enough unless they had dead minke whales as before to learn more about their maturing ages.

Japan did warn that they would return to killing the mammals again while on hiatus from hunting.

This time, after a 115-day hunt, Japan killed 333 minke whales. Some of the animals were pregnant females, according to HNGN. The total figure captured this year is roughly one-third of what Japan normally kills during one of its seasonal scientific hunts. During one historic year, Japan hauled in 850 whales, and recent years showed numbers dropping significantly.

Part of this research is to prove that the whales are abundant enough to hunt commercially. Japan has said that it is prepared to capture 4,000 more whales over the next 12 years in order to show that the whales can be commercially hunted again.

"The number of pregnant females is consistent with previous hunts, indicating that the breeding situation of minke whales in the Antarctic is healthy," Japan's Fisheries Agency claims.

Eating the whales was once a large part of the Japanese diet, but now demand for the product is falling. The new research program quota in relation to demand for whale meat has dropped significantly over the past several years. Many people in Japan claim they rarely or never eat the meat. Nevertheless, despite worldwide opposition led by Australia and New Zealand, Japan's government holds onto its customary source of protein and its way of getting it through the loophole in the ban on whaling.

Japan whaling
Two minke whales before they are chopped up at a fishery processing factory in Japan after a Japanese fleet hauled in the catches of the country's research program. Critics say the research program is a thinly-veiled disguise as commercial whaling, but Japan insists the killings of minke whales are for research purposes, and the surplus of the research is sold for food. [Photo by Kyodo News/AP]

"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.

The Australian government says Japan's decision to go forward with killing the whales was "deeply disappointing," but the conservation group Sea Shepherd claimed Australia and New Zealand did not try to intercept the Japanese fleet on its way to begin the hunt, according to the Guardian.

Australia claims it began talks with the highest levels of authority within the Japanese government, but Japan seems prepared to go ahead with its plan to kill more of the creatures in the future, despite the outcry from other countries.

[Photo by Kike Calvo/AP]