Japan kills 333 whales in annual Antarctic hunt

The last of Japan`s four whaling ships returned to port yesterday after a four-month expedition that saw 333 minke whales killed including more than 200 pregnant females. AFP

A fisheries agency official said that the whalers this time faced "no obstructive behaviour threatening safety of the fleet and crew members" by the group.

The document, titled NEWREP-A (New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean), set out its planned catch of 4,000 minke whales over 12 years - that's where the 333 quota per year comes from.

The International Whaling Commission imposed a commercial ban on whaling in 1986, but Norway objected. In January, Australia said it was "deeply disappointed" that Japan continued its hunt after what seemed to be a positive meeting on the issue between Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Shinzo Abe, Reuters reported.

Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru is anchored in Shimonoseki, western Japan, on Friday.

But environmentalists and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) call that a fiction and say the real goal is simply to hunt whales for their meat. Opponents say that it is a cover for commercial whaling because the meat is sold.

Japan called off its 2014 hunting season, but submitted a new document to the IWC in the lead-up to the 2015-2016 whale hunt.

"It was great that we have achieved our plan".

Japan's Fisheries Agency described the expedition as "research for the objective of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea", and said that three of the five ships returned to Shimonoseki port in western Japan Friday.

"It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end", she said in a release. Its whale catch has fallen in recent years in part because of declining domestic demand for whale meat.

Kitty Block, executive vice-president of Humane Society International, an animal protection group based in Washington D.C., said Japan is needlessly killing whales every year.

A Sea Shepherd helicopter has tracked Japan's whaling fleet.

Critics of the slaughter say that whaling is a dying industry, but Japan continues to spend copious amounts of tax dollars to sustain the Antarctic whaling expeditions.

Japan has faced global protests over the hunts, and Greenpeace activists have confronted the fleets at sea in an effort to protect the whales.

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