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Japan kills 333 whales in annual Antarctic hunt, flouting international laws

Japan has continued its annual whaling expeditions, defying international laws in the name of "scientific research." Japan has claimed that it is not in violation of a global moratorium banning the hunting of whales.

Japan's whaling fleet returned to shore Friday following a months-long Antarctic hunt, killing over 300 minke whales despite a number of international moratoria and court rulings prohibiting the practice.

Although Japan officially halted its commercial whaling practices for a year following a 1986 global moratorium on whale hunting, to which it is a signatory, it has continued to kill whales by exploiting a loophole by claiming its whaling practices are for "scientific research."

Japan's Fisheries Agency in a press release described its most recent mission as "research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea."

"Since a majority of both the males and females taken were mature, this indicates that the species is reproducing healthily," it said.

Some 200 people gathered by the southwestern port of Shimonoseki, a major whaling port in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's electoral district, to celebrate the five-vessel fleet's return.

In the name of science

A total of 333 minke whales were killed and brought back to shore this year, with Japan saying it intends to take some 4,000 whales over the next 12 years for research purposes.

Environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) call that claim fiction. The ICJ in 2014 ruled that the real purpose was simply to hunt for whale meat, contravening the 1986 moratorium. Japan halted the practice for a year but resumed in 2015.

Japan has made no secret that the intention of its research is to prove that the whale population is large enough to sustain commercial hunting. The country has also admitted that much of the whale meat ends up on dinner tables.

Dismissing critics

Japan has largely shrugged off international condemnation of its whaling practices, including those from key allies, such as the United States.

In January, Australia spoke out against the Antarctic hunt, saying it was "deeply disappointed" that Japan had sent its fleet just after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had reportedly discussed the issue with Abe.

Deutschland Japan Paul Watson Tierschützer von der Organisation Sea Shepherd (dapd)

Paul Watson, the former head of Sea Shepherd, was forced to step down after being barred him from nearing Japanese whaling ships

Campaign groups speak up but fail to act

The animal protection organization Humane Society International (HSI) denounced this year's hunt, rejecting any notion of a scientific case for slaughtering whales.

Kitty Block, HSI's executive vice president, said that "commercial whaling in this, or any other disguise, does not meet any pressing human needs and should be relegated to the annals of history."

"Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed," Block said. "It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end."

Past mission had often been hampered by the confrontational environmentalist group, Sea Shepherd. However, Japan has won some relief through the courts after the group was found to have physically attacked groups of whalers. Fisheries Agency chief Yuji Yamamoto told local news that the group's attitude "seems to have somewhat softened" and that the fleet this year faced "no obstructive behavior threatening the safety of the fleet and crew members."

dm/sms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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