Japan's internationally condemned Antarctic whale hunt wrapped up this week with a haul of 333 of the creatures, including more than 200 pregnant females, government officials reported.
The last of Japan's four whaling ships returned to port Thursday after a three-month expedition, the Japanese Fisheries Agency reported. Their reported catch represents "a significant increase" over the last hunt, which brought in 252 whales in 2014, according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The Fisheries Agency said this year's haul was 103 male minke whales and 230 females, 90 percent of which were pregnant, the agency said. The number of pregnant females suggests "that the breeding situation of minke whales in the Antarctic is healthy," the agency said in a statement on the hunt.
Three dead minke whales lie on the deck of the Japanese vessel Nisshin Maru in the Southern Ocean off the coast of Antarctica, January, 2013. (Photo via EPA/Sea Shepherd Australia)
Though international law bans commercial whaling, Japan conducts its hunts under an exemption for scientific research — an exemption other countries and international bodies consider dubious. In April 2015, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) rejected a Japanese plan to kill 4,000 whales over the next 12 years, ruling that Japan had failed to provide enough evidence that the hunts would be for scientific purposes. Whale meat is sold in stores in Japan, though few Japanese still buy it.
"If our Japanese friends really care about science and international law, it's time to put down the harpoon and chopstick, stop cutting these creatures into bits in the name of science, and join Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries studying living whales in their ocean environment in the 21st century," Patrick Ramage, IFAW's global whale program director, said in a statement on the hunt.
Minke whales are among the smaller whale species, averaging about 26 feet (8 meters) in length and weighing about 10 tons. About 700,000 are still believed to live in the Southern Hemisphere, according to IWC estimates.
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Reuters contributed to this report.