TOKYO Japan's whaling fleet returned on Thursday from its Antarctic hunt after a year-long suspension with a take of more than 300 whales, including pregnant females.
The International Court of Justice ruled in 2014 that Japan's whaling in the Southern Ocean should stop, prompting it to call off its hunt that season, although it said at the time it intended to resume later.
Japan then amended its plan for the next season to cut the number of minke whales it aimed to take by two-thirds from previous hunts.
Its fleet set out in December despite international criticism, including from important ally the United States.
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.
"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 in a statement.
Japan, which has long maintained that most whale species are not endangered and that eating whale is part of its culture, began what it calls "scientific whaling" in 1987, a year after an international whaling moratorium took effect.
The meat ends up on shop shelves, although most Japanese no longer eat it.
Japan intends to take nearly 4,000 whales over the next 12 years as part of its research program and has repeatedly said that its ultimate goal is the resumption of commercial whaling.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Robert Birsel)