Japan's all set for some whaling action, setting sail for the Antarctic, but says it's doing so for the sake of science. Two ships were sent out, with a third following on Jan. 16, to take skin samples from whales as well as get a head count of the population, according to a government official.

Expected to last until March 28, this expedition will not involve lethal hunting in accordance with a decision by the International Court of Justice that Tokyo was in violation of a moratorium on whaling released in 1986. After the United Nations' highest court passed its decision in March 2014, Japan said it would be canceling its planned whaling mission to the Antarctic this winter. However, the country expressed every intention to continue its "whale research" in the 2015-2016 season.

According to documents sent to the International Whaling Commission and the commision's Scientific Committee, a yearly target of 333 minke whales will be followed by Tokyo for future hunts, down from the 900 whales that it usually hunted under the old program. Additionally, a research period was also specified to end in 12 years, starting from fiscal year 2015, after the UN court criticized the open-ended nature of Japan's whaling program.

In the 2012-2013 season, Japanese whalers killed 103 minke whales. In the 2013-2014 season, it hunted 251. As the new program had not been implemented then yet, more whales could have been hunted had it not been for direct action by Sea Shepherd, a conservationist group.

"The Japanese whale poachers have once again departed for the Southern Ocean. Clearly this year's expedition is nothing but a scouting trip in preparation for the resumption of poaching operations in the 2015/2016 season. It seems the Japanese whaling fleet is hell-bent to ignore the wishes of the international community and to deepen their isolation on the topic of whaling," said Captain Alex Cornelissen, CEO for Sea Shepherd Global, adding Japan's whaling is a criminal operation supported by subsidies from the government.

The Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo, however, is unfazed, claiming that criticisms of Japan's whaling program don't have grounds. An adviser for the research institute said that the non-lethal research was planned months ago and has not been contested by the U.N. court.

Aside from in the Antarctic, whaling research is also conducted in the Northwest Pacific and along the Japanese coast, claiming 132 and 92 whales, respectively, in 2013.

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