A Japanese whaling group has returned after capturing 35 minke whales, which is reportedly short of the actual target set for the season. The marine mammals were caught for research purposes, according to Japan's fisheries ministry.

The original target of 77 minke whales could not be achieved by the group due to inclement weather.

In the past, Japan's whaling practice has come under strong criticism from environmentalists who claim that almost all of the captured whales end up on diners' plates. Earlier in 2014, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) had stated that Japan's whale hunting programmes are anything but scientific.

Research is one of the exceptions under which whaling is allowed by international regulations. Environmentalists have accused Japan of using this loophole to hunt for whales that eventually end up on dinner plates rather than in research laboratories.

The practice has also evoked sharp condemnation from countries like New Zealand and Australia, which called the whaling "deeply disappointing".

During the latest expedition, the unnamed whaling group captured 22 males and 13 females with the approval of the Japanese fisheries ministry. The whaling expedition was conducted in coastal waters off Hokkaido in September and October.

"We were able to grasp the distribution patterns (of the whales) in waters around Hokkaido in detail," said an official from the group, according to Japan's Kyodo news agency. The Fukuoka-based whaling promotion group originally planned to catch more minke whales in the marine trip, but were hampered due to unfavourable weather conditions.

The captured whales will be studied and their stomach contents and body lengths analysed, according to Japanese officials. The findings of the study will then be used to determine whether commercial whaling practices can be resumed in the near future.

Japan whaling
Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru pictured on its return to the Shimonoseki port in southwestern Japan after leading a fleet that killed 333 whales in the Antarctic waters in this file photo Kyodo/via Reuters