Japan announced it was suspending its annual whale hunt in the strongest sign yet that direct action from groups like Sea Shepherd and weak consumption of whale meat in Japan are having an impact on whaling.
Simon Ager/Sea Shepherd/AP
Conservationists were cautiously celebrating today after Japan announced it was suspending its annual whale hunt, claiming its fleet’s safety had been compromised by antiwhaling activists in the Antarctic.
It isn’t clear if the order to stop whaling amounts to the beginning of the end of Japan’s annual mission to the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean. But it is the strongest sign yet that international criticism, direct action, and weak consumption of whale meat at home are having an impact.
The official line, supported almost without dissent in the Japanese media, is that the actions of the whaling fleet’s nemesis, the Sea Shepherd marine conservation group, have put the crew’s safety at risk.
The Japanese ship is now reported to be 2,000 nautical miles east of the hunting zone and heading towards Chilean waters in the Antarctic Ocean.
Sea Shepherd, meanwhile, says this winter’s campaign has been its best yet. The fleet is thought to have caught only a small number of whales – between 30 and 100 by one estimate – since it arrived in the whaling grounds at the end of December.
It had planned to catch about 1,000 mainly minke whales, using a clause in the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling that permits Japan to catch a limited number for research purposes.