JAPAN’S whaling fleet has ended its annual Antarctic hunt after landing 30 per cent of its planned catch of more than 900 whales.
Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano yesterday blamed bad weather and “sabotage” by the Sea Shepherd environmental protest flotilla for the reduced catch.
Although the catch of 266 was almost 100 more whales than the whalers caught last year, the shortfall might add to the financial pressure on the so-called scientific whaling program.
The Australian government welcomed Japan’s decision to recall its fleet from the Southern Ocean, saying it condemned all commercial whaling, “including Japan’s so-called ‘scientific’ whaling program”.
“Japan’s whaling activities are contrary to international law,” said Environment Minister Tony Burke, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon and acting Foreign Minister Craig Emerson in a statement.
“That is why Australia commenced and will continue legal action in the International Court of Justice. Our efforts are aimed at ending Southern Ocean whaling for good.”
Mr Kano said the outcome of this year’s hunt would be reviewed but did not directly respond to questions about the program’s future. Many observers thought the program would be discontinued this season after last year’s earthquake, but the whalers were given fresh funds to return to the Antarctic late last year and insiders say they believe the hunt will continue in the future.
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson used the cessation of this year’s hunt to claim victory over the Japanese fleet. “If the Japanese whalers return, Sea Shepherd will return. We are committed to the defence of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary,” he said.
By Rick Wallace, Tokyo correspondent, The Australian
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