Anti-whaling activists claimed today they have effectively ended this year's Japanese hunt following a late-night altercation near Antarctica, but the whalers said their season will continue.
The activists said they finally found the main factory ship after playing cat-and-mouse with the whalers for the past two weeks. The Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker confronted the whaling ship Nisshin Maru about 100km from the Antarctic coastline.
The activists said they used laser beams and flares to disrupt the ship. The whalers said they used small vessels and ropes to prevent the Bob Barker from getting close.
Sea Shepherd President Paul Watson says the Nisshin Maru will be prevented from further whaling with the Bob Barker disrupting it.
"They won't get more than 30 percent of their quota," Watson said.
But the whalers - the Institute for Cetacean Research - say their season, which typically runs through the end of March, will continue as planned.
Institute spokesman Glenn Inwood said the activists aren't achieving anything.
"Sea Shepherd has shut nothing down," he said.
Japan's whaling fleet has a quota of about 1000 whales a year. The International Whaling Commission allows Japan to hunt the whales as long as they are caught for research and not for commercial purposes. Whale meat not used for study is sold as food in Japan, which critics say is the real reason for the hunt.
Watson said the group's primary tactic in past was to use its ships to block the slipways on the whaling vessels, preventing them from loading whales. He said this year, the whaling ships have tried to sail away - but that has also prevented them from catching whales.
Inwood said the Japanese government would release catch figures about a month after the season ends.
In a written statement, the institute condemned what it said were the activists' "violent actions against the integrity and safety of Japan's whale research vessels and crews."
In February, the Washington state-based Sea Shepherd group won a legal battle when a federal judge denied a request by the whalers for a preliminary injunction ordering the activists to stop their ocean confrontations.