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In Japan, a victory for the whales

Activists rejoice as Japan recalls a fleet of whaling ships weeks before the annual hunt was meant to end.

Last year, Australia filed a complaint against Japan at the international court of justice in The Hague in an attempt to put a permanent end to its expeditions to the Southern Ocean. A decision is expected in 2013 at the earliest.

"I'm glad this season is over and Australia doesn't believe there should ever be another whaling season again," Australia’s environment minister, Tony Burke, said in a statement Friday.

While many Japanese bristle at what they regard as Western interference in a culinary tradition stretching back centuries, domestic demand for whale meat has plummeted since its heyday as a much-needed source of protein in the postwar years.

Despite special promotions and programs to serve the dish as part of school lunches, the Japanese eat the equivalent of only four slices of sashimi a year, according to one estimate. As of December, industrial freezers across the country housed 5,093 tons of whale meat, according to the fisheries agency.

While Sea Shepherd has engaged in whale wars on the high seas, Greenpeace has attempted to shift public opinion by exposing waste and criminality in the whaling industry.

Last September, Greenpeace Japan members Junichi Sato and Toru Suzuki each received a one-year suspended sentence after they intercepted a parcel of whale meat they said had been stolen by crewmembers who intended to sell it on the black market.

Sato, who is now the group’s executive director, said last week’s announcement should be followed by a permanent end to whaling. “The historic announcement confirms what we all know: that Japan’s whaling serves no purpose whatsoever and that the fleet has no business in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary,” he said.

“All the whaling program has produced is a stockpile of thousands of tons of frozen whale meat, the waste of billions of Japanese taxpayers’ yen, and a culture of corruption and scandal.

“An early return of the whaling fleet is not enough. Japan’s whaling ships should never leave port again.”