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Antarctic Whaling 'Not Over Yet', Warns Greenpeace

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Pete Bethune
Pete Bethune

Wellington, Feb 18 NZPA - The Government has welcomed the Japanese decision to abort their shortest Antarctic whaling season, but anti-whaling groups warned that though this summer's battle may be over, the war on whaling continues.

"The New Zealand Government and public strongly oppose whaling in the Southern Ocean," Foreign Minister Murray McCully said tonight. "Clearly the withdrawal of the fleet is something that we welcome."

Across the Tasman, Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said: "I'm glad this season is over and Australia doesn't believe there should ever be another whaling season again."

Greenpeace demanded that the Japanese government end its commercial whaling programme permanently.

Greenpeace New Zealand oceans campaigner Karli Thomas said the early return home of Japan's whaling fleet was good news for both whales and conservationists but "it's not over yet".

Japanese farm and fisheries minister Michihiko Kano announced the Japanese whaling season in the Southern Ocean was being cut short -- after harpooning only a fifth of its targeted catch of 850 whales -- because of harassment by environmentalists.

Japan was calling its harpoon ships home "to ensure the safety of the whaling crew amid the continuing harassment by anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd," Mr Kano said.

He did not indicate whether Japan would resume whaling next season, saying instead that it would "examine" the matter.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society hailed the result as a victory and said it would keep up the pressure next year.

"Every year we've gotten stronger," Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson told The Associated Press by satellite phone from the group's protest vessel Steve Irwin.

"We had better equipment, we had a longer-range helicopter...really, it came down to having more resources."

Aucklander Peter Bethune, who spent several months in a Tokyo jail after illegally boarding the Japanese whaling ship Shonan Mary II in the Antarctic last February, said the decision was a "fantastic result"

He is in North America en route to Trinidad and Tobago to take part in a workshop being held by the Trini Eco Warriors Group.

He said on Facebook: "So the Japanese have today suspended their whaling operation in the southern ocean. It finishes several weeks early which is a fantastic result. SSCS (Sea Shepherd Conservation Society) has run a great campaign this year, and congratulations to all involved!"

Bethune was captain of the Ady Gil protest ship that sank following a collision with the Shonan Maru II in January last year.

Japan's Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said the fleet, which departed for the Southern Ocean on December 2 would return home soon.

In past weeks, protesters have thrown rancid butter in bottles toward the whaling ships. They also once got a rope entangled in the propeller on a harpoon vessel, causing it to slow down.

Jiji Press news agency quoted Mr Kano as saying about the factory ship the Nisshin Maru: "Even now the mothership is being chased, and it is difficult to ensure the safety of the crew members."

Sea Shepherd has waged its campaign of physical intervention against the whalers for seven years, but Mr Watson said: "We haven't hurt anybody."

The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban on whaling, but opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.

Japan kills hundreds of whales as "lethal research", and its government has long defended the practice as part of the island nation's culture and makes no secret of the fact that the meat ends up in restaurants.

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