Japan's annual Antarctic whale hunt killed 333 whales this year, the AFP reports. The five-ship whaling fleet set out in November and returned to port Friday with the minke whale carcasses. The country's Fisheries Agency says the mission was necessary for "research for the purpose of studying the ecological system in the Antarctic Sea," but critics say Japan is simply hunting whales for meat, even though the practice of eating whale meat has dropped off sharply in the country. Environmentalists and animal rights groups are once again calling for an end to the whaling practice.
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. An International Court of Justice ruling ordered Tokyo to end the practice, leading to Japan killing no whales in the 2014-15 season, but 333 whales were killed during the 2015-16 season after Japan "re-tooled" the program, per Reuters. The EU has officially come out against Japan's whale hunt, and the US Congress is preparing a resolution calling for its end, reports the Telegraph. (Read more whaling stories.)