With some media outlets reporting that Japan has stopped whaling, maybe temporarily or maybe permanently, some animal advocates are celebrating, but that celebration would be a bit premature.
(Update: Japan has shortened its 2011 whaling season and the whaling fleet has left the Southern Ocean.)
Other news outlets reported that while the ships are leaving the area, it's unclear where the vessels are going. Japan is being vague about their intentions, so it's unclear whether this year's whaling season has ended or if the whaling fleet is just taking some evasive action to try to shake the Sea Shepherd fleet.
Sea Shepherd's Captain Paul Watson told The Thinking Vegan: "I don’t trust them so we are staying in the Southern Ocean with the whaling fleet until they leave. They have not said if the suspension is permanent, the rest of the season, a few weeks or a few days."
2011 is the seventh year that Sea Shepherd has pursued the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean, attempting to thwart their whaling activities with controversial tactics such as boarding the Japanese vessels and sabotaging the ships. With these tactics, Sea Shepherd has proven to be very effective against Japan's whaling efforts, as revealed by Wikileaks. A cable communication between Washington DC and the American embassy in Tokyo admits that Sea Shepherd's efforts have "kept the fleet from reaching its quota the last few years."
Even if the Japanese fleet has abandoned their mission and is heading home, the Japanese government has made no statements regarding future whaling seasons.
The International Whaling Commission, an international organization, banned commercial whaling in 1986, but still allows whaling for scientific purposes and by aboriginal peoples. Three countries - Japan, Norway and Iceland - currently have non-aboriginal whale hunts. Japan claims that they are killing whales under an exception for scientific research. Under the scientific exception, excess meat from the killed whales can be sold commercially, but few believe that science is Japan’s main motivation for whaling.
In 2010, a proposal to legalize commercial whaling failed at the IWC’s annual meeting. Japan had threatened to withdraw from the IWC if the ban on commercial whaling was not lifted, but as of February, 2011, they have not done so.
While many people believe that whales are special and deserve special protection, animal rights activists do not believe that whales are more special or deserving of more protection than a cow, a pig or a chicken. Animal rights activists advocate veganism, and object to the killing of cows just as much as the killing of whales.