Every Christmas, sailors from Japan go out into the Southern Ocean, taking "biological sampling" that aims to investigate "the structure and dynamics of the Antarctic marine ecosystem".

But no, they aren't trying to understand more about climate change, or investigating the mating songs of the ocean. They're out killing hundreds of Antarctic minke whales, and then letting the flesh be sold in markets and restaurants.

The latest figures have been released from meeting papers by the International Whaling Commission's scientific committee earlier this month.

According to those figures, 333 minke whales were killed in the 2017/2018 summer season in Australia. Of those, 122 were pregnant, and 114 were immature, meaning they were not yet able to breed.

The researchers wrote that killing the whales is necessary, as "age information can be obtained only from internal earplugs and therefore only through lethal sampling methods."

However, most researchers do not agree with this, as you can estimate the age of a whale by comparing its size to other whales that you know the age of.

The claims that whales need to be killed 'for science' have been debunked many times.

"It is well established in the scientific literature that there are many ways to study whale diet and condition without killing them," Leah Gerber, a marine conservation biologist at Arizona State University, told Science in 2013

"The killing of 122 pregnant whales is a shocking statistic and sad indictment on the cruelty of Japan's whale hunt," says Alexia Wellbelove, from the Humane Society International.

The whales are killed by explosive grenade tipped harpoons that only kill the whale instantly 50-80 percent of the time.

And Japan allows the whale meat to be sold as a food product, removing even more credibility from its claims about scientific research.

Back in 2014, the International Court of Justice called on Japan to stop its whaling program, ruling it illegal.

In response, Japan has now withdrawn its recognition of the International Court of Justice in matters in regards to whaling.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Japan intends to kill around 4,000 whales over the next 12 years, and eventually resume commercial whaling.

"The continued killing of any whales is abhorrent to modern society, but these new figures make it even more shocking," concludes Wellbelove.

"We look forward to Australia and other pro-conservation countries sending the strongest possible message to Japan that it should stop its lethal whaling programs."

You can see the full report from the International Whaling Commission here.