TOKYO: Japan said Tuesday it killed 177 whales off its northeast coast in an annual hunt that sparks anger among animal rights activists and others. Three ships which left port in June returned with 43 minke whales and 134 sei whales, the number stipulated beforehand, according to the country’s fisheries agency. Japan is a signatory to the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) moratorium on hunting, but exploits a loophole which allows whales to be killed in the name of scientific research. The studies are “necessary to estimate the precise number of [sustainable]catches as we look to restart commercial whaling,” agency official Kohei Ito told Agence France-Presse. Norway—which does not consider itself bound by the 1986 moratorium—and Iceland are the only countries in the world that authorize commercial whaling.