Triggering international condemnation, Japan’s fleet known for capturing whales for research returned to shore this week and confirmed it killed more than 300 minke whales.

The Antarctic Southern Ocean hunt is the largest and most controversial of Japan's hunts and every year, the country undertakes what it has labelled as a scientific hunt for whales in the ocean. Its fleet set out in December despite international criticism, including from important ally the United States.

Source: b'Source: Reuters'

The final ships of the four-vessel whaling fleet returned to Shimonoseki in southwestern Japan on Thursday, having achieved the goal of 333 minke whales, the Fisheries Agency said.

Of these, 103 were males and 230 were females, with 90 percent of the mature females pregnant.

What do laws say:

Commercial whaling was banned by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, although killing whales for scientific research was allowed to continue. Making use of that loophole, Japan has hunted more than 20,000 whales since. However, in 2014, the International Court of Justice  ruled Japan should stop. Instead, Japan ignored the ruling last year and announced it would continue whaling while reducing the number of whales it would kill by two-thirds to 333.

Source: b'Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru/Source: AFP'

What is Japan's logic behind this?

Japan has said it conducts this "scientific whaling" strictly for research. However, the meat is sold commercially and government agencies say the ultimate goal is the resumption of commercial whaling. 

Japanese officials have said their whaling program, called JARPA II, is for research on whales' age, sexual maturity and pregnancy rates, according to court documents. Some elements of the program were slated to go on for six to 12 years.

And what is the truth?

Australia has said that Japan’s whale research program is less about science and more about exploiting a legal loophole for selling whale meat for commercial purposes. Prof Atsushi Ishii of Tohoku University, an expert in environmental politics, argues it is an excuse to subsidise an unprofitable but politically sensitive industry, reported BBC.

Source: b'Whale meat served in a Tokyo restaurant/Source: Reuters'

Japan is also trying to prove the whale population is large enough to sustain a return to commercial hunting as the meat ends up on restaurants and is served in school lunches. However, the Guardian reported that 95 percent of Japanese never or rarely eat whale meat and the consumption has considerably decreased.

(With inputs from Reuters)