31/03/2017 10:44 PM AEDT

Japan Kills 333 Minke Whales In Annual Antarctic Hunt, Sparking Outrage

A Japanese whaling fleet has returned to port after killing more than 300 minke whales in its annual Antarctic hunt. 

The fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in November, defying global criticism, and returned back to shore on Friday morning at Shimonoseki port in Western Japan.

It is believed the fleet consisted of five vessels. One of which was the 8,145-tonne Nisshin Maru, thought to be the world’s only whaling factory ship.

STR New / Reuters
A minke whale is trussed to the side of the Japanese whaling ship (stock image)

There were also smaller catch vessels used primarily to chase and kill the whales using harpoons.

Humane Society International (HSI) said that, of the 333 minke whales killed, 155 were males and 178 females. The number of pregnant cows caught has not been reported.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency described the mission as “research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea”, the Guardian reports, but conservation groups and the International Court of Justice said it was simply a hunt for whale meat. 

Kitty Block, executive vice president of HSI, said: “Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed.

“It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end. There is no robust scientific case for slaughtering whales.

“Commercial whaling in this or any other disguise does not meet any pressing human needs and should be relegated to the annals of history.”

KYODO Kyodo / Reuters
Japanese whaling vessel the Nisshin Maru returns to the Shimonoseki port in southwestern Japan in this photo taken by Kyodo on March 31

Under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, member nations are allowed to kill whales for scientific investigations.

Yet HSI has accused Tokyo of using this as a “pretext” for permitting commercial hunts.

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has also spoken out against the whale hunt.

Heather Sohl, WWF Chief Adviser on Wildlife, said: “30 years since the international moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect, it is unacceptable that so-called scientific whaling is still putting whales, such as the 300 minke whales caught by Japan, at risk.

“The Southern Ocean is a vital area for marine life, home to species like minke and blue whales, seals, penguins and krill.

“It is under threat from manmade affects such as climate change and the risk of unsustainable fishing practices.

“It is essential that whaling under the pretence of science stops, and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary is respected once and for all.”