Anit-whaling harassment, rising diplomatic pressure and a waning appetite for whale meat in Japan could end the Japanese whale hunt. Image: guano/Flickr

Japanese whaling in Antarctica has been suspended because of intense harassment at sea from an anti-whaling organization. Despite a global whaling moratorium, Japan exploits a loophole that allows legal whaling for research purposes. But consistent harassment from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and Japan’s waning appetite for whale meat could end Japanese whaling in Antarctica for good.

Anti-whaling harassment pays off

The Japanese whaling ship Nisshin Maru pulled away from its whaling zone off the coast of Antarctica late last week. The Sea Shepherd anti-whaling ship Bob Barker was reported to be hot on its tail. Wednesday Japan’s Fisheries Agency said the country’s annual Antarctic whale hunt has been suspended due to dangerous Sea Shepherd attacks that have put whaling crews at risk. The whaling season in the Antarctic usually runs until mid-March. Japan’s official reason for aborting the whale hunt is safety concerns, but fuel may be a more relevant issue. During this year’s whale hunt, Sea Shepherd vessels have pursued Japanese whalers in a zig-zag chase, forcing them to deviate far from their intended route.

Sea Shepherd saves the whales

Japanese whalers have endured stepped-up attacks from anti-whaling activists this season. The day before Japan suspended the Antarctic whale hunt, the captain of one of the Sea Shepherd ships said the crew launched stink bombs and tossed rotten butter onto the decks of Japanese whalers. Japan had planned to kill about 1,000 whales this season. Since the Japanese whaling fleet arrived in the Antarctic in December, it has been estimated that only 30 to 100 have been harvested. Sea Shepherd leaders say its 2010-11 anti-whaling campaign has been the most successful since the U.S.-based group started harassing the Japanese whaling fleet in Antarctica seven years ago.

Japan losing its appetite for whaling

Japan hasn’t said it will end its annual whaling missions to the Antarctic, but anti-whaling harassment and international diplomatic pressure could be coming to a head. The governments of Chile, Australia and New Zealand are committed to ending Japanese whaling in the Antarctic. The Japanese have also lost their appetite for whale meat. Thousands of tons of what was once a Japanese staple languish unsold in warehouses. Yet the heavily subsidized Japanese whaling industry has killed an estimated 10,000 animals in Antarctica’s internationally recognized whale sanctuary “for research purposes” since the global whaling moratorium was enacted 26 years ago.

Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2011/0216/Is-Sea-Shepherd-s-harassment-helping-to-end-Japan-s-annual-whale-hunt

Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/environment/whale-watch/japanese-whaling-fleet-gives-up-the-hunt-20110216-1awnd.html

Wall Street Journal: http: //blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2011/02/16/japan-whale-hunting-on-hold/

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