The official line from the Japanese media is that the Nisshin Maru is being forced to suspend activities in the annual Southern Ocean whale hunt because of fears to staff safety. But the crew members of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are claiming the move as a victory for whales.
The Nisshin Maru is a factory ship, a huge vessel that serves as a floating processing plant for the dead and dying whales. After being harpooned by smaller ships, the whales are transferred to the factory ship where they are dissected, according to the whalers, for research purposes.
The Nisshin Maru has been pursued by two of the Sea Shepherd fleet, the Bob Barker and the Gojira, since last week. By keeping close to the ship, dubbed the 'Cetacean Death Star' by Sea Shepherd members, the harpoon ships cannot transfer whales on board, saving hundreds of lives.
Sea Shepherd, headed by Captain Paul Watson, has been harassing the Japanese fleet for several weeks, and it looks now as if the whalers are heading towards the waters of South America.
“If that’s true then it demonstrates that our tactics, our strategies, have been successful,” Watson told the AFP news agency via satellite phone.
Tatsuya Nakaoku of the Japanese fisheries agency told Reuters News Agency that, “… the fleet has halted scientific whaling for now. We are currently considering what to do thereafter.”
The hunt has continued despite growing international criticism, and amid rumors that the financial cost is becoming unjustifiable in a country where the sale of whale meat has lost favor. The Japan based Dolphin and Whale Action Network claimed last month that there are stockpiles of frozen whale meat estimated to be more than 6,000 tons, a record high.