Japan's Fisheries Agency announced Friday from Tokyo that its fleet was heading home "on schedule," but that its catch of 267 whales fell far short of the approximately 900 projected, AFP reports. According to an agency official, "factors including weather conditions and sabotage acts by activists" were to blame for the weak results.
After pursuing the whalers for much of the season, Sea Shepherd announced its mission a success on its website Thursday.
"Is it a victory? Yes. We kept them running almost for the whole three months," Captain Paul Watson told Australia's ABC News24.
News of the Japanese whaling fleet's withdrawal comes four days after the Institute of Cetacean Research, which oversees the Japanese whaling program, reported a confrontation between the Japanese ships and Sea Shepherd's ship Bob Barker.
The activists claimed to have used laser beams and flares to disrupt the whaling ship Nisshin Maru, The Associated Press reports.
The conservationist group lost one of their boats, the Brigitte Bardot, after suffering severe damage from a giant wave in December. "It's not going to stop our attempt," Watson told AP at the time.
The controversial group has come under legal fire recently. In February, Japanese whalers asked a U.S. judge to freeze Sea Shepherd's bank accounts, accusing the group of financing terrorism. Earlier this week, the Maltese government initiated libel proceedings against Watson after he accused government officials of accepting bribes from tuna fisherman.
Watson seems untroubled by the criticism:
"It has been a successful campaign. There are hundreds of whales swimming free in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary that would now be dead if we had not been down there for the last three months. That makes us very happy indeed."