18 Feb 2011

Japan ends whaling season early

8:31 pm on 18 February 2011

The Japanese government has formally announced the early end to this year's whaling season in Antarctica.

It says "harassment" by anti-whaling activists had made it impossible to continue, the BBC reports. Normally the season continues until mid-March.

The hunt was temporarily halted last week, after the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society chased the Japanese fleet's mother ship.

Now Farm and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano says the fleet will return home. "Even now the mother ship is being chased, and it is difficult to ensure the safety of the crew members."

A BBC correspondent told Checkpoint the minister said the question of whaling next season would be considered.

Sea Shepherd says the decision is "great news".

Commercial whaling was banned in 1986 but Japan uses a regulation permitting hunting for scientific research.

Iceland and Norway have lodged official objections to the ban and continue to hunt commercially.

NZ welcomes halt

Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully has welcomed Japan's statement.

Mr McCully says the Government and the New Zealand public strongly oppose the whaling and its withdrawal is welcome.

He hopes the early end will allow time for constructive dialogue on what he calls the international impasse on whaling issues.

Mr McCully says the objective is to permanently eliminate whaling in the Southern Ocean.