Japanese Agriculture Minister Michihiko Kano said the hunt, expected to last until mid-March, was called off after confrontations with the Sea Shepherd Conservations Society prompted concern for the safety of crew and ships, The Guardian reported.
Asked whether whaling would resume next winter, Kano said, "We'll examine the situation in detail and then come to a decision."
Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson called Japan's decision a victory for anti-whaling activists.
"I have a crew of 88 very happy people from 23 different nations, including Japan, and they are absolutely thrilled that the whalers are heading home and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is now indeed a real sanctuary," Watson said in a news release posted on the Sea Shepherd Web site. "This is a great victory for the whales."
Australia, another critic of Japan's whale hunts, also welcomed the news.
"I'm glad this season is over and Australia doesn't believe there should ever be another whaling season again," Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said.
Australia filed a complaint with the international court of justice in The Hague, Netherlands, last year to get the hunts banned.