Twelve Governments Protest Norway's Increased Whaling Quota

OSLO, Norway, April 21, 2006 (ENS) - Twelve countries have delivered a formal diplomatic protest to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry in Oslo over Norway's plans to kill a greater number of North Atlantic minke whales this year.

At the end of 2005, the Norwegian government announced a record increase in the number of North Atlantic minke whales Norway plans to take this year, up from 796 to 1052 whales.

The formal written statement, or demarche, was presented to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Thursday by the British Charge d'Affaires in Oslo.

The other nations involved included the Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Spain.

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Aerial view of a North Atlantic minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata, in Arctic waters. Like other great whales, minkes migrate to temperate and tropical waters in winter and polar waters in summer. (Photo by Morten Lindhard courtesy WWF)
UK Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw said, "Any announcement of an increase in the 2006 quota is premature and not based upon the best scientific advice. It is disappointing that the Norwegian government are putting pressure on their scientists to justify the wide scale destruction of this species."

"The UK and many other countries remain strongly opposed to Norway's existing and unnecessary lethal whaling activities, and we urge Norway to stop them," Bradshaw said.

"New Zealand is concerned that the Norwegian government has increased its quota to 1,052 minke whales for 2006, the highest whale take by Norway for two decades," said New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter.

"We do not know the effects this will have on whale populations," he said. "The criteria Norway used for setting the quota haven't been properly assessed and peer reviewed by the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee."

"We are also very concerned about Norway's announcement that it is considering taking whales from international waters," said Carter.

Carter said the demarche was one example of the diplomatic methods like-minded countries are using to apply pressure on whaling nations.

"We will continue to pursue these efforts vigorously. I will be attending the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in St. Kitts and Nevis in June and we will be doing all we practically can to preserve the moratorium on commercial whaling, " he said.

Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Helga Pedersen says the higher minke whale hunt quota announced for 2006 was set in response to a unanimous vote of the Norwegian Parliament that requested the government to increase the quota.

Pedersen emphasizes that the quota for 2006 is "a step on the road towards an ecosystem based regulation of the whale hunt."

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Helga Pedersen is Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs. (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"The model used for calculating quotas is conservative," Pedersen said. "According to scientists, the quota is within the interval that gives adequate safety regarding the conservation of the minke whale stocks that we target."

The International Whaling Commission estimates that there were between 120,000 and 182,000 minke whales in the North Atlantic Ocean, excluding Canadian East Coast, in the period 1987 to 1995, the latest year for which figures are available.

Norway is the only member of the IWC that carries out commercial whaling. Most of the whale meat is sold commercially in Norway although it has recently exported to Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Most of the blubber is dumped as there is little consumer demand and storage costs are high. Japan has refused to accept any Norwegian whale blubber because of concerns about high levels on contaminants, mainly heavy metals and PCBs.

Although a global ban on commercial whaling has been in place since 1986, Norway entered a formal objection to the ban and resumed whaling legally in 1993. Since then it has ignored repeated calls to respect the moratorium and stop its commercial whaling operations.

From 1982 when the moratorium was accepted in principle, the IWC has been working on a comprehensive assessment of whale stocks and on a scientifically rigorous method of determining catch limits for any future whaling - the Revised Management Procedure (RMP).

Scientific advice on Norway's modifications to the RMP will not be available until after the IWC Scientific Committee meeting in May. Therefore, said Bradshaw, any announcement of an increase in the 2006 quota is premature and not based upon the best scientific advice.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, Australia today Australia's Environment and Heritage Minister Senator Ian Campbell and New Zealand Conservation Minister Carter announced a collaborative effort to further the protection of whales and dolphins in the South Pacific.

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The Japanese whale hunt targets minke whales in the Southern Ocean, a separate species, the Antarctic minke whale, Balaenoptera bonaerensis. (Photo courtesy Fathom Expeditions)
The announcement follows official talks in Sydney between Australia, New Zealand and the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme to develop a collaborative program on issues such as whale and dolphin strandings, disentanglement strategies, whale watching guidelines, and whale research programs.

“Australia and New Zealand have an excellent track record in collaborating on whale conservation and in working together to achieve results at an international level and at the International Whaling Commission,” said Senator Ian Campbell, Australia's minister of environment and heritage.

“Australia recently revised its National Guidelines for Whale and Dolphin Watching to set the benchmark for best practice, and I'm sure these guidelines could be helpful to other countries in the region to assist with sustainable management of expanding whale watching industries," Campbell said.

“New satellite tagging techniques have also been developed by Australian researchers which will help rescue whales entangled in nets and marine debris. The new satellite tagging equipment will help to track whales so a rescue operation can resume if unsafe conditions have made it difficult to free whales from entanglements," he said.

The Australian government also has a broad range of information resources to share including a new National Sightings and Strandings Database.

Carter said New Zealand is embarking on three whale and dolphin conservation initiatives in the South Pacific.

New Zealand will fund and conduct a training and survey program in both Kiribati and Tuvalu to establish baseline information about whales and dolphins in their waters. Then New Zealand will host a whale strandings management workshop later this year for Pacific Island participants.

Recently completed guidelines for minimizing acoustic disturbance to marine mammals, is the third initiative, and New Zealand will make the guidelines available to all South Pacific countries.