Japanese call off whale hunting season — end of Whale Wars?

Despite the seemingly good news from the Southern Ocean – that Japanese whalers have stopped hunting – activists and governments alike are waiting on formal word that they have truly stopped for the season.

There is concern the “suspension” could be some kind of stalling tactic or publicity stunt.

From Australia, Environment Minister Tony Burke, admits to hearing conflicting reports. “At this point, we do not have any statement from the Japanese government to us confirming that this season of whaling is at an end.”

The Japanese Fisheries Agency is only saying that whaling operations have been “suspended” since February 10 “to ensure the safety of the crew.”

For the moment the Sea Shepherd‘s “Bob Barker” is still trailing the Japanese processing ship, the “Nisshin Maru,” on a meandering route that has led both ships away from whaling grounds.

One thing everyone seems to agree on is that this season the Japanese have taken very few whales, thanks largely to the constant harassment of the Shepherd’s. Traditionally the Fisheries Agency holds off until season’s end to announce exactly how many whales were taken in the name of science; this year’s goal was between 800 and 900. The best guess right now is that they’ve taken fewer than 100.Sea Shepherd spokesman Peter Hammarstedt, aboard the “Bob Barker,” explained the success the group has had this season: “Every day we prevent them from whaling we’re costing them millions of dollars in lost profit. And we speak the only language that these poachers understand, the language of profit and loss.”

Hammarstedt also reported that the Japanese ship had made a U-turn just before entering the Drake Passage, slowed and headed back to the west.

“The turnabout could mean one of two things,” said Hammarstedt. “First, they may be on a great circle route back to Japan, or second, they may be returning to the whaling grounds in the Ross Sea where the three Japanese harpoon vessels may be waiting to continue their illegal slaughter.”

From the Shepherd’s mother ship, the “Steve Irwin,” Captain Paul Watson was his typical bold self in reaction to the suspension of hunting: “The Japanese Fisheries Agency had no choice but to suspend whaling operations. Sea Shepherd had already enforced a suspension of operations by blocking all whaling operations since February 9th and blocking 75% of all whaling operations for the month of January. We will not allow the Japanese whalers to kill another whale down here in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.”

To celebrate its successes this season, Sea Shepherd’s website today announced a “10 percent off” sale on all its merchandise (beanies, hoodies, baby bibs, tank tops, tote bags and more) – a so-called “No Compromise Sale” – in gratitude to its loyal and growing list of supporters around the world.

[Flickr image via gsz]