Page last updated at 06:29 GMT, Tuesday, 13 April 2010 07:29 UK

Japan annual whale hunt 'halved by activists'

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Tokyo

A Japanese whaling ship collides with a Sea Shepherd ship in the Antarctic (6 Feb 2010)
Anti-whaling activists aim to prevent the hunt from going ahead

Japan's whaling fleet has revealed how much anti-whaling activists disrupted the annual hunt off Antarctica.

The ships have returned to port with just over half as many whales - 507 - as they had set out to catch.

Whalers said they were angry, and blamed what they described as "violent interference" from the anti-whaling Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Clashes at sea between Sea Shepherd and the whaling ships paralysed the hunt for 31 days.

The last ship of the whaling fleet to return home sailed into Tokyo bay, with much of the hunt's catch in her hold.

The whalers had set out late last year to kill nearly 1,000 whales in the waters off Antarctica, but they caught 506 minke whales and one fin whale.

It is the smallest catch for years.

One of the Sea Shepherd activists, Peter Bethune, is awaiting trial in Japan after boarding a harpoon ship and trying to perform a citizen's arrest on her captain.

Prosecutors have charged him with five crimes. If convicted he could go to prison.

Commercial whaling has been banned worldwide since 1986 but Japan justifies its annual hunt as scientific research.

Meat not used for study ends up in restaurants and shops.

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