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A Japanese whaling fleet has returned after slaughtering more than 300 animals as part of an annual Antarctic hunt.
The Tokyo-based crew set sail in search of minke whale in November, despite worldwide criticism which was spearheaded by Australia and New Zealand.
While the Japanese Fisheries Agency describes the mission as 'research for the purpose of studying the ecological system', the International Court of Justice says the purpose of the trip is to obtain whale meat.
Anticipating the fleet's return, campaign groups have called for an immediate end to whaling.
Kitty Block, from Humane Society International, told the Guardian: "Each year that Japan persists with its discredited scientific whaling is another year where these wonderful animals are needlessly sacrificed.
"It is an obscene cruelty in the name of science that must end."
UK based organisation, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), is also applying pressure on the European Union to hold off striking a trade deal with Japan until the killing ends.
Astrid Fuchs, from Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) said: "The EU is currently negotiating a free trade agreement with Japan. We urge them to make whaling a topic in the next round of talks which will be held in Tokyo this April.
"There should be no agreement until Japan stops its whaling and abides by international conventions,"
Three of the five-ship fleet arrived at the port of Shimonoseki in Western Japan this morning with 333 of the dead mammals on board.
More than 200 people gathered in front of the Nisshin Maru - the fleet's main ship - for a 30-minute ceremony, according to a Shimonoseki city official.
Last year, Japanese fisherman also caught more than 300 minke whale following a one-year hiatus ordered by the International Court of Justice.
The ruling stated that the hunt could not continue as a commercial venture rather than one of scientific research.
Commercial whale hunting has been banned under a moratorium set by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.
Although Japan is signatory to this rule, campaigners accuse the nation of exploiting a loophole which allows them to kill the animals as research to determine if the population is large enough to return to full-time hunting.
At the height of the whaling industry, Japanese fleets reportedly consisted of factory ships which could process large amounts of meat while at sea.
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