'Sabotage' forces whaling fleet to end season early

Conservationists claimed victory yesterday after Japan announced it had ended its whaling season early, having hauled less than a third of the annual target.

Japanese whaling ships gave up on their mission in the Southern Ocean this week after catching 266 minke whales and one fin whale – falling far short of its target of 900 whales. The Fisheries Minister, Michihiko Kano, blamed the shortfall on a combination of "sabotage" by environmental activists and adverse weather conditions.

Despite a 25-year ban on commercial whaling, Japan has captured up to 1,000 whales a year since 1987, when it used a loophole to carry out "lethal research" on whales for "scientific" purposes. There have been reports of clashes between environmental activists and whaling ships since the whaling season began in December. This week, a ship used by the US-based marine life conservation society Sea Shepherd confronted the whaling vessel Nisshin Maru about 60 miles from the Antarctic coastline, using laser beams and flares to disrupt its activities. During its anti-whaling campaign, called Divine Wind, Sea Shepherd claims to have followed and deterred the Japanese whaling fleet for 17,000 miles during the short season.

"It has been a successful campaign," said the group's founder, Paul Watson. "There are hundreds of whales swimming free in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary that would now be dead if we had not been down there for the last three months."

The Australian government welcomed Japan's decision to recall its whaling fleet.

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