Japanese fleet returns with 333 whales killed in Antarctic

Japan's whaling fleet has returned home after killing 333 whales in the Antarctic, achieving its goal for the second year under a revised research whaling programme.

Tokyo's fisheries agency said the five-ship fleet has now completed its four-month expedition.

Japan said the hunt was for ecological research.

Research whaling is allowed as an exception to a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling.

Opponents of the Japanese programme say it is a cover for commercial whaling because the carcasses are sold.

The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan's Antarctic whaling programme should stop because it was not scientific, as Tokyo had claimed.

Japan conducted non-lethal whaling research in the Antarctic in 2015, and revised its programme in 2016 by reducing the catch quota.

Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru is anchored in Shimonoseki, western Japan. Photo: Souichiro Tanaka/Kyodo News via AP
Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru is anchored in Shimonoseki, western Japan. Photo: Souichiro Tanaka/Kyodo News via AP

A welcome ceremony was held in Shimonoseki, home port for the fleet's mother ship, Nisshin Maru.

At the event, Japanese fisheries agency official Shigeto Hase said: "It was great that we have achieved our plan. We will steadily continue our research toward a resumption of commercial whaling."

Officials said the whalers used parts of the whales to determine their age, nutrition, and reproductive conditions.

Opponents say such studies can be done using non-lethal methods.

Kitty Block, executive vice president of Humane Society International, a UK-based animal protection group, said Japan is needlessly killing whales every year.

She said: "It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end."

Japan has hunted whales for centuries as a source of protein and a cheaper alternative to other meats.

Its whale catch has fallen in recent years, in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat.

Protests by the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd have also contributed to the decline.

Critics say it is a dying industry, but Japan's government has spent large amounts of tax money to sustain whaling operations, saying it is a Japanese cultural tradition that must be preserved.

- AP

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