A minke whale in the wild. (Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Public Domain)

Four months ago, Japanese ships set out for the Antarctic Ocean on what has been a controversial, if irregular occurrence: a massive whale hunt.

Ostensibly for research, the practice has been widely criticized by environmentalists and other countries, and in 2014, a United Nations court told Japan to bring it to an end.

But they haven’t, and on Thursday, the four-ship fleet returned with the results of their latest catch: 333 dead minke whales, including several pregnant females. 

Japan says that the whales are used for research, though many—declared to be surplus—end up in commercial markets, according to the Associated Press.

Japan has said that the hunts are necessary to research if commercial whaling can ever sustainably resume. 

This year’s harvest is actually down from what Japan has caught in past years, when a harvest could include around 1,000 whales. The country has been responsible for 95 percent of the 14,410 whales hunted for research since whaling was mostly banned internationally in 1986, according to Fusion