Conservationists unsatisfied by whaling suspension

Conservationists and the Australian government said Thursday they were not satisfied with Japan's suspension of whaling in Antarctic waters and vowed to continue their separate campaigns to force a permanent end to the hunt.

On Wednesday, Japan's government announced it had suspended its annual whale hunt due to repeated harassment of its whalers by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ships. It said the suspension began Feb. 10 and would last until conditions were deemed safe.

Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said there were media reports that Japan was suspending whaling for the rest of the hunting season, which usually ends in late February or early March.

But he said that even if the reports were confirmed, "it is not time to celebrate until we get a decision from Japan that they are stopping whaling for good."

Australia will continue with its case brought last year before the International Court of Justice in the Hague that claims Japan is breaching its international obligations through the annual hunt, Burke told reporters.

Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson said Japan had no choice but to suspend its hunt because the Sea Shepherd ship Bob Barker, which was tailing the Japanese ship Nisshin Maru, had made loading and processing whale carcasses "physically impossible."

"I think it is premature to see this as a victory for the whales yet," Watson said in statement. "What we do know is that the whalers will not be killing any whales for the next few weeks."

Sea Shepherd ships have been chasing the Japanese fleet for weeks in the icy seas, trying to prevent the whalers from filling their seasonal quota of 945 whales. The conservation group has waged it campaign of physical intervention against the whalers for seven years.

The whale hunts, which Japan says are for scientific purposes, are allowed by the International Whaling Commission as an exception to the 1986 ban, but opponents say they are a cover for commercial whaling because whale meat not used for study is sold for consumption in Japan.

Australia has declared the southern seas a whale sanctuary and has long lobbied for an end to whaling there.