Japan has ended its whaling season with less than a third of its annual target, said the country’s Fisheries Agency.
The whaling ships headed home from the Antarctic Ocean this week with 266 minke whales and one fin whale, falling short of its quota of about 900.
The agency blamed “sabotage” by anti-whaling activists for the shortfall.
Japan conducts “legal research” on whales each year, but activists say it is a cover for commercial whaling banned under an international treaty.
“The catch was smaller than planned due to factors including weather conditions and sabotage acts by activists,” an agency official was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.
“There were definitely sabotage campaigns behind the figure.”
The US-based anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd follows the Japanese fleet south every year in a bid to disrupt its hunt.
“I think it’s been a very successful campaign,” said the group’s president, Paul Watson. “I predicted they wouldn’t take over 30% and they got 26% so we were right on that one.”
There has been a ban on commercial whaling for 25 years, but Japan catches about 1,000 whales each year in what it says is a scientific research programme.
The Australian government also welcomed Japan’s decision to recall its whaling fleet.
“Japan’s whaling activities are contrary to international law,” the government said. “That is why Australia commenced and will continue legal action in the International Court of Justice.”
Environmentalists have actively resisted Japan’s whaling activities.
In January, three activists said they suffered cuts and bruises after clashing with a Japanese ship, the Yushin Maru No 2, about 300 miles (482km) north of Mawson Peninsula off the coast of Antarctica.
The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which sponsors Japan’s whaling activities, also said the activists were trying to ”sabotage” the Yushin Maru, throwing ropes with hooks attached and hurling glass bottles of paint.
The vessel was one of the security ships escorting the whaling fleet.
The week before the incident, Japan handed three anti-whaling activists who had boarded a whaling support ship back to Australian authorities.