A fleet of four Japanese ships returned from the Antarctic on Thursday with a cargo of 333 minke-whale carcasses. The haul from the four-month hunt fulfills the annual quota of Japan's controversial program, set at about 4,000 whales over 12 years and defended in the name of biological research.
The expedition continued despite an order to halt from the U.N. International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014, according to Reuters. The court ruled that the program violated the international whaling regulations. It also challenged Japan's characterization of its whaling as research, citing a lack of scientific output.
Following the court's decision, Japan paused its operations and redesigned its program, cutting its annual quota of minke whales to about third of its average haul in previous years. But the break was brief. In December, Japan dispatched its fleet, drawing broad condemnation from international governments and conservationist groups.
A joint statement from the U.S., Australia, the Netherlands and New Zealand said: "We do not believe that Japan has sufficiently demonstrated that it has given due regard to the guidance found in the 2014 ICJ judgment." They urged Japan to heed advice from the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) expert review that could not find justification for the culls.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research, however, maintains that it is necessary to kill whales to measure age at sexual maturity, pregnancy rates and blubber thickness. Appealing to science also allows Japan to operate without violating the IWC's 1986 whaling moratorium, which exempts research expeditions from its commercial ban, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
Some groups argue that Japan runs commercial operations under the banner of science. Japanese officials do not hide the fact that research whales are butchered for sale, meaning meat from the animals brought into port on Thursday, which included many pregnant females, may end up on supermarket shelves.