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Japanese Fleet Kills 333 Whales In Antarctic Hunt After Defying International Court

Japan insists that killing whales is essential to obtain scientific data, but critics of the Antarctic hunt say it's a cover for commercial whaling.

Posted on March 24, 2016, at 8:58 p.m. ET

Toru Hanai / Reuters

Workers butcher a Baird's Beaked whale at a port southeast of Tokyo in 2008.

A Japanese fleet on Thursday returned to port with 333 minke whales killed in the nation's first Antarctic hunt in two years after defying an international court.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency announced that the four-ship fleet had fulfilled its catch quota during the months-long expedition, which it maintains will aid in scientific research of whales.

A 1986 international ban on commercial whaling includes an exemption for scientific research, a loophole other nations — most notably Australia — accuse Japan of exploiting.

Reuters

In 2014, the International Court of Justice sided with opponents who argued the hunts are a cover for commercial whaling since much of the leftover carcass goes to market. However, Japan decided to flout the ruling in December, outlining plans to the International Whaling Commission to harvest up to 333 minke whales annually over the next 12 years, infuriating Australia and environmental activists.

Japan's annual catch has actually fallen over the years, with domestic demand for whale meat softening. According to the Associated Press, the new catch quota is about one-third of what it used to be.

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