Sea Shepherd saves 500 whales

Japanese authorities believe their whaling mission in the Antarctic will kill little more than half the intended goal due to harassment by environmentalists, reports said today.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has engaged the Japanese fleet in a series of high-seas clashes. The group this week said its campaign, despite international condemnation, had saved 500 whales.

Japan’s Fisheries Agency declined comment on their assertions. But Japan’s Jiji Press and Kyodo News agencies, quoting unnamed fisheries officials, late today backed the group’s account.

Japan, which says whaling is part of its culture, had planned to kill 850 minke whales and 50 fin whales. Under international pressure, Japan dropped plans to also kill up to 50 humpbacks, beloved by Australian whale-watchers.

Jiji Press said the total catch would likely be somewhere more than 400 whales. Kyodo News said it was expected to be somewhere between 500 and 600.

Sea Shepherd has adopted confrontational tactics, arguing that whaling is barbaric and that Australia and other nations are only paying lip service to fighting Japanese whaling.

The group has thrown what it describes as stink bombs filled with rancid butter onto the decks of whalers. Japan says the bombs contain acid which stings the eyes.

In January, the group also sent two protesters to board a whaling factory ship, setting off a two-day standoff.

Last year as well, Japan killed little more than half of its intended catch in the Antarctic Ocean after a fire damaged the mother ship.

Although environmentalists also harassed the whalers last year, both sides said the fire was an accident unrelated to protests.

Japan kills whales using a loophole in a 1986 whaling moratorium that allows “lethal research” on the giant mammals. Only Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium outright.