Japan fleet kills 333 whales in Antarctic hunt

TOKYO: 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.