For the first time, officials from Japan’s fisheries agency have publicly floated the prospect of ending that country’s whaling program in the Antarctic.

According to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper, the Fisheries Agency of Japan (FAJ) established a review panel in April to consider whether or not Japan’s Antarctic whaling should continue, following a season in which, citing harassment by Sea Shepherd, the fleet returned home having caught just 170 of its intended 945 whales. The panel’s report was published this week; predictably, a majority of its members stated that the “whaling is justified on the basis of an international treaty. It should be continued without yielding to heinous interference.” However, the report also included a minority opinion that, “If we cannot gain understanding on the research whaling in the international community, we should scale it down or halt it.”

BLOG: Is This The End of Antarctic Whaling?

As Discovery News reported earlier this year, observers have detected multiple pressures within and outside Japan – from economic woes to a lack of interest in whalemeat to new shipping regulations in the Southern Ocean – that would appear to portend the demise of whaling in the Antarctic. Exactly when that end might come, however, is a different matter, with many of those same observers predicting at least one more, likely scaled-down, Antarctic season. In the meantime, Japan continues to hunt whales in the North Pacific.

BLOG: Japan’s Whalers Return to Pacific

Photograph: Minke whale in sea ice of Ross Sea in the Antarctic. Photo by Mila Zinkova, via Wikimedia Commons.