The Federal Government is under growing pressure to take stronger action against the Japanese whaling program, after Japan confirmed it killed more than 300 minke whales during its summer mission.
Japan’s Fisheries Agency announced on Thursday that the target number of “scientific research” kills had been achieved in the 2015/16 summer mission, with its Antarctic whaling fleet killing 333 minke whales.
It said 103 were males and 230 females — 90 per cent of which were pregnant.
“The number of pregnant females is consistent with previous hunts, indicating that the breeding situation of minke whales in the Antarctic is healthy,” the agency said.
The Japanese Government’s Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) said its ship Nisshin Maru spent 115 days at sea, 65 of those surveying and slaughtering whales for biopsy sampling, conducting non-lethal satellite beacon experiments, and marine water surveys.
In the middle of last year Japan announced it would continue whaling in Antarctica, ignoring the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) findings that there was insufficient justification for killing whales in the name of science.
Japan makes no secret of the fact meat from the animals is processed into food, and says the whale population is big enough to allow sustainable whaling.
Environmental activist group Sea Shepherd said whales were harpooned within whale sanctuaries.
Spokesman Adam Burling said he believed the hunt contravened a ruling from the International Court of Justice against the whaling program in 2014.
“These whales have been killed in defiance of Australian laws as well as international laws,” he said.
The Marine Conservation Society’s director Darren Kindleysides said he wanted the Australian Government, together with other world leaders, to raise concerns directly with Japan.
“Japan are thumbing their nose at the international community,” he said.
“They’re thumbing their nose at the international court now.
“Almost 20 years now that Japan has been killing whales in the name of research, and so look enough is enough.”
Environmental group Greenpeace called the hunt “unnecessary” and said it violated the United Nations court ruling.
No scientific justification for lethal research: Hunt
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there was no scientific justification for Japan’s lethal whale research.
“The Australian Government strongly opposed Japan’s decision to resume whaling in the Southern Ocean this past summer,” he said.
“The Japanese decision was made without the IWC having the opportunity to complete its review of Japan’s whaling program and in spite of a resolution by the commission calling on it not to go whaling.
When asked if minke whales were harpooned in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary or the Australian Whale Sanctuary, Glenn Inwood from the ICR responded: “The IWC’s Southern Ocean Sanctuary does not apply to research whaling carried out by IWC member governments.”
“Japan does not know where nor would it recognise Australia’s so-called ‘whale sanctuary’.”
Japan suspended its annual whale hunt in 2014 after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that its whaling program — known as JARPA II — was not based in science and was therefore illegal.
‘Institute not in breach of ruling’
Despite the ruling, Japan has designed a new whaling program, called NEWREP-A, which it submitted in November 2014 to the IWC’s scientific committee for assessment.
The IWC’s scientific committee found the revised plan showed insufficient justification for killing whales in the name of science under the new program.
In December, Japan ignored that finding, with its whaling boats leaving port bound for the Southern Ocean with the aim of catching up to 333 minke whales.
Mr Inwood said the ICR was not in breach of the IJC ruling.
“The ICJ ruled that Japan’s previous research program known as JARPA 2 was ‘not for the purposes of scientific research’ and so Japan immediately ceased that program,” he said.
“Japan’s latest research program, which is called NEWREP-A, was developed to give effect to the principals laid down by the ICJ in its judgement and according to the rules of the International Whaling Convention.”