Japan says it killed 333 minke whales, including 122 pregnant females, at its controversial annual hunt last summer. The hunt is, as always, under fire for its lack of apparent connection to legitimate scientific research and for killing whales rather than taking a non-lethal survey (Japan says its aim is to show the whale population is healthy). This year's 12-week expedition, in which whales were killed using harpoons fitted with explosives, has also been particularly criticized for the number of pregnant females that were killed. Of the 128 mature females killed, 95.3% were pregnant, reports the Guardian. The expedition was detailed in a report to the International Whaling Commission. “The killing of 122 pregnant whales is a shocking statistic and sad indictment on the cruelty of Japan’s whale hunt,” a Humane Society International program manager says in a statement.
Whether Japan’s whale hunts are legal is a bit murky, notes the New York Times. Under a 1946 international ruling, countries may kill whales for scientific research. In 2014, an international court found Japan's whale hunt was for commercial purposes, not scientific, and temporarily banned the country from whaling in the Antarctic Ocean; a year later Japan began a new program that reduced the number of whales it kills by two-thirds and that, per Japan, has a scientific purpose. But experts contend the new program is still for profit; the whale meat is eventually sold as food. “They’ve sought to exploit this loophole,” one legal expert tells the NYT. Japan says that aside from research purposes, whale hunting is an important part of its culture, notes the BBC. Other countries still hunt whales for meat, but only Japan hunts whales in Antarctica under the scientific research exemption. (Minke whale vocalizations are fascinating.)