Japan kills 333 minke whales in four months of 'research' programme

Most of the female whales were pregnant.

Japan has killed 333 minke whales in its latest "research" mission this summer. Of the kill, 103 were males and 230 females with a whopping 90 percent of the latter pregnant.

Japan's Fisheries Agency announced two days ago that the target number of "scientific research" kills had been achieved in the 2015/16 summer mission. "The number of pregnant females is consistent with previous hunts, indicating that the breeding situation of minke whales in the Antarctic is healthy," the agency said.

The Japanese ship spent 115 days at sea, 65 of those surveying and slaughtering whales for biopsy sampling, conducting non-lethal satellite beacon experiments, and marine water surveys, according to the government's Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR).

Environmentalists argue that the killings go against the ruling of the International Court of Justice in 2014 after it found evidence showing the research was limited and did not justify the mass killings.

Japan then drafted a new whaling programme, called NEWREP-A and submitted the proposal to the International Whaling Commission in late 2014. The IWC found the programme lacking in scientific justification for killing whales.

But in December last year, Japan went ahead with its whaling boats leaving port bound for the Southern Ocean with the aim of catching up to 333 minke whales, writes ABC News.

Last year Japan conducted only non-lethal research into whaling, but it says killing whales is essential to obtain data on their maturing ages, reports AP. Scientific research is exempt from a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling.

Critics of the hunt point that the research is just a cover for commercial whaling as the surplus is sold. Whale meat is a much-sought delicacy in Japan and the government has been insisting the whale population is large enough to sustain the killings.

Japan's programme has been going on since 2005 and has involved the killing of about 3,600 minke whales.