CANBERRA Anti-whaling protesters stopped
shadowing Japan's whaling fleet on Tuesday after a series of
heated clashes in the Southern Ocean, saying they had saved
more than 500 whales from being harpooned.
The hardline Sea Shepherd organization, which angered Japan
with its harassment of Japanese whaling ships, said its protest
ship the Steve Irwin was running out of fuel and had no choice
but to return to port in Australia.
"We have just enough fuel to make it back to port. We've
done everything we can do down here for this season," the
group's leader Paul Watson said in a statement.
Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research labeled the Sea
Shepherd group as "terrorists" after a series of heated clashes
in the Southern Ocean aimed at disrupting the annual whale
In January, two Sea Shepherd protesters climbed aboard
whaling ship the Yushin Maru No.2 and were held for two days
before being released, while Sea Shepherd crews hurled stink
bombs at Japan's whaling factory ship in March.
Last week, Watson said he had been struck by a bullet fired
from coast guard officers on the Japanese factory ship the
Nisshin Maru, but said he survived because he had been wearing
a bullet-proof vest.
Japanese authorities denied the claim, saying the bullet
was part of a light bulb from a clock on the Nisshin Maru's
deck, and the coast guard officers only fired flash grenades,
which are used for crowd control and are not considered
Watson said the protests had stopped Japan from catching
whales for five and half weeks, or half of the whaling season
which ends in less than two weeks, with the Sea Shepherd
chasing the whale fleet for more than 3,500 nautical miles.
The clashes between the whale fleet and protesters led to a
spate of diplomatic complaints between Tokyo and Canberra, with
the Australian government strongly opposed to whaling but
urging both sides to show restraint.
Japan, which considers whaling a cultural tradition,
abandoned commercial whaling after agreeing to an international
moratorium in 1986, but began what it calls a scientific
research whaling program the following year.
It planned to kill nearly 1,000 whales during the Antarctic
But Australia and the Sea Shepherd say the scientific
whaling is a sham, used by Japan as a cover for commercial
Australia has promised to try to stop Japan's whaling, and
is considering international legal action to try to stop the
program, but the two countries have agreed not to let the issue
hurt bilateral ties.
Australia's Environment Minister Peter Garrett on Tuesday
said Australian had asked the International Whaling Commission
to close the loophole that allows scientific whaling, and to
assess all scientific research involving whaling.
(Editing by Jerry Norton)