Japan's whaling fleet has returned with 333 whales it caught in its first Antarctic harvest since an international court ruling stopped its hunt two years ago.

The Fisheries Agency said Thursday that Japanese whalers in the four-ship fleet killed 333 minke whales, its catch quota, during the four-month expedition in the Antarctic.

The International Court of Justice in 2014 ruled that Japan's Antarctic whaling program was not scientific as Tokyo had claimed and must stop. Japan last year conducted only non-lethal research into whaling.

Scientific research is exempt from a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. Opponents of Japan's Antarctic hunt say it's a cover for commercial whaling.