(CN) - Japan is continuing its whaling in the Pacific Ocean mere weeks after an international court ordered a stop to similar hunts near Antarctica.
The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled on March 31 that Japan's annual JARPA II "scientific research" program in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica was a bogus cover that violates international bans on commercial whaling.
It is generally agreed that Japan does not kill whales for research, but to satisfy its people's demand for whale meat
Japan said it would stop JARPA II missions after the ruling, but announced Friday that a smaller "scientific research program" into the North Pacific Ocean would begin the next day and last until early June.
Japan's Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry said a fleet of four ships will be in waters within 50 miles of Ishinomaki, Miyagi, on the northeast side of Honshu, the main Japanese island. Up to 51 minke whales will be captured.
Minke whales can weigh up to 10 tons, and whale meat can sell for more than $100 a pound in Japan, according to publicly available statistics. Assuming that half the whale is edible, that makes meat from a single large minke worth $1 million or more.
The ministry said the annual "research mission" will continue in the fall off Kushiro on the eastern side of Hokkaido, the northernmost major Japanese island.
The ministry said it will conduct research regarding whale stomach contents and that the survey is "intended to be based" under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.
Criticism of Japan's whaling program grew after the 2008 debut of "Whale Wars," a reality television series about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. The group has used its own boats to find and harass JARPA II vessels into stopping whaling activities for several years.
Captain Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, told Courthouse News on Sunday that Japan is "openly defying" the ICJ's ruling with the current hunt and its intent to relaunch the Southern Ocean hunt.
"After the ICJ verdict I predicted that same day that the whalers would not only go to the North Pacific but that they will also return to the Southern Ocean in 2015," Watson said in an email. "The ICJ verdict was very clear, and that is, that Japanese scientific research whaling is a sham. It's not science."
Sea Shepherd will return to the Southern Ocean with four ships in December 2015 to uphold verdicts by the ICJ and the Australian Federal Court, Watson said.