The annual whale expedition off the Japanese port city of Kushiro ended this weekend after having caught 59 minke whales, the Japanese Fisheries Agency said in a statement.

The whales where caught as a part of a research program that whaling opponents claim is just a cover for commercial whaling. A maximum capture of 60 whales is allowed under this research program, which is authorised by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The Fisheries Agency says the goal of the hunt was to study the feeding patterns of the whales and their effect on fish stocks. Initial examination of the stomach contents of the killed mink whales revealed mostly pollack, krill and anchovy. The complete results of the study will be presented at next year’s IWC meeting.

Japan also catches about 1,000 whales in the Antarctic Ocean and the northwest Pacific Ocean each year under another IWC research programme.

Minke Whale Facts

· Once perceived as asingle species, the minke whale population has quite recently been recognized as consisting of two distinct species: the Northern Mink Whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, and the Southern Mink Whale, Balaenoptera bonaerensis.

· Also known as Little Piked Whales or Lesser Rorquals, Mink Whales prefer icy waters but are found world-wide.

· Balaenoptera acutorostrata is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, while Balaenoptera bonaerensi is listed as Data Deficient since it was recognized as a separate species so recently.

· Together, the two species are believed to form a population of over 1 million Minke Whales world-wide.