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Norway kicks off minke hunt, raises quota to 999 whales

Japan kills 333 whales in annual Antarctic hunt

The Fisheries Agency said the five-ship fleet finished its four-month expedition without major interference from anti-whaling activists.

Japanese whaling fleets have returned from Antarctica with 333 butchered bodies of minke whales in what officials are calling "ecological research".

Japan is a signatory to the International Whaling Commission, which put a moratorium on hunting whales starting in 1986, but Tokyo claims that because whales are allowed to be killed for scientific research purposes, its hunts are legit; the country justifies the consumption of whale meat by explaining that the meat is simply a byproduct of the research and must be used.

Japan, which has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its culture, began what it calls "scientific whaling" in 1987, a year after an global whaling moratorium took effect. Japanese whaling fleet has returned with 333 whales it caught in the Antarctic, filling its planned quota for a second straight year under a revised program following an worldwide court ruling.

In 2014, the International Court Justice ruled that Japan's Antarctic whaling program should be halted because it was not done for the scientific reasons that Tokyo was claiming.

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

Officials in Japan claim that whalers use parts of the whale for research to determine the whale's age, reproductive conditions, and nutrition.

In January, Sea Shepherd also caught the Nisshin Maru whaling ship in an Australian Whale Sanctuary with a dead minke on deck.

"It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end", said Kitty Block, executive vice president of Humane Society International.

Yoko Yoshimura arranges cuts of raw whale meat at her shop at a port in Shimonoseki, Japan.

But consumption has dramatically declined in recent decades, with significant proportions of the population saying they "never" or "rarely" eat whale meat.

"Today Sea Shepherd mourns the loss of these whales".

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.