Japan just launched a whaling fleet that could kill 333 minke whales. The worst part of the endeavor is that the country claims it's killing the animals in the name of "scientific research." CNN explains that Japan just launched its first whaling fleet to the Antarctic Ocean in more than a year, and the fleet will conduct a three-month mission. The announcement comes after the International Court of Justice banned the practice, which it said was a "smokescreen for commercial whaling," CNN notes. The court ordered Japan to stop the JARPA II research program, while Japan claimed it was "monitoring the Antarctic ecosystem," according to the project's website.
Several countries, including New Zealand and Australia, have spoken out against Japan's whaling practices, but Japan has defended the mission. The new fleet, which departed Japan's Shimonoseki port on Tuesday, includes four vessels: the "Nisshin Maru" research ship and three additional boats. Japan maintains that the researchers are capturing and killing whales to collect scientific data. But CNN states that whale meat is a commonly available food in Japan. Following the International Court of Justice's ban of Japan's original whale-killing mission, JARPA II, the new fleet is part of a research program called NEWREP-A, which will last for 12 years, with as many as 333 whales killed each year.
A fact sheet from Japan's Fisheries Agency and Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims that "there is no other means than lethal methods" for scientists to obtain age data from the whales. But many animal activists, such as the anti-poaching group Sea Shepherd, believe the projects are just a cover for illegal poaching. Alex Cornelissen, Sea Shepherd's CEO, said in a statement that whales are protected by international law, and Japan's whaling efforts could constitute criminal actions. Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, Japan has killed more than 10,000 whales. And while the Japanese government doesn't appear to be concerned with the allegations concerning its research program, Australia has pledged to take action to stop the poaching. George Brandis, the Australian attorney general, told NBC News that the country will consider sending a patrol boat from its Customs and Border Protection Service to the Antarctic. The boat could gather "evidence of illegal conduct" and poaching, according to NBC News.