More than 120 pregnant whales were killed during Japan's annual hunt last summer, a report has revealed, prompting outrage among conservationists.
Figures show that 128 of the 333 minke whales caught during the 12-week expedition in the Southern Ocean were female. 122 of them were pregnant.
The figures were published in a technical report submitted to the International Whaling Commission and prepared by representatives of the Institute of Cetacean Research, an agency linked to Japan's fisheries ministry.
Conservationists greeted the report's findings with fury, calling the statistics "shocking" and condemning the slaughter as "abhorrent."
"It is further demonstration, if needed, of the truly gruesome and unnecessary nature of whaling operations, especially when non-lethal surveys have been shown to be sufficient for scientific needs," Alexia Wellbelove, Senior Program Manager at Humane Society International, said in a statement.
Japan has previously justified its whaling on an exemption in international law which allows the animals to be killed for scientific purposes, but Australia won a 2014 case at the International Court of Justice which ruled against the Japanese program in the Southern Ocean.
After the ruling however, Japan announced new research program, under which it would kill up to 333 Antarctic minke whales each year. The country's fisheries ministry said the program is necessary to study the best methods of managing minke populations.
"The continued killing of any whales is abhorrent to modern society, but these new figures make it even more shocking. We look forward to Australia and other pro-conservation countries sending the strongest possible message to Japan that it should stop its lethal whaling programs," said Wellbelove.
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