Help Save the Whales, Britain Urges More Nations

LONDON, UK, February 1, 2007 (ENS) - The British government has launched a recruitment drive to enlist more countries to the anti-whaling cause, whether or not they have coastal waters. Only three countries - Japan, Iceland and Norway - actively carry out whaling, but the pro-whaling countries now command the majority within the International Whaling Commission, IWC.

The government said Wednesday it is concerned about the loss of the anti-whaling majority within the IWC and the "increasing disregard" that pro-whaling countries are showing towards the current moratorium on commercial whaling.

Despite the 20 year old ban, the number of whales killed each year continues to grow.

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The crew aboard a Japanese whaler measures the weight of a minke whale. 2005. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research, Japan)
A 75 percent majority is needed to overturn the moratorium. Currently, the IWC membership stands at 72 countries.

A publication entitled "Protecting Whales - A Global Responsibility," endorsed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough, is being sent to the governments of countries who are not yet members of the International Whaling Commission, IWC.

In the foreword, Blair writes, "The UK government strongly supports the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling. We urge your government to join the UK and the other anti-whaling nations to ensure that our generation meets its global responsibility to protect whales."

It explains why it is important that more of conservation-minded governments join the IWC and back efforts to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises around the globe.

The publication debuted Wednesday aboard the International Fund for Animal Welfare's marine research vessel, Song of the Whale now docked in London.

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British Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw (Photo courtesy EIA)
Introducing the initiative, Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw, said, "Whales are a common heritage and as such the responsibility for their conservation and protection rests with all countries, whether or not they have coastal waters.

"Whaling is inherently cruel and economically unnecessary and we would urge all countries to join the IWC, protect the IWC's moratorium and take up the global responsibility to protect whales for future generations."

At the IWC's 2006 annual meeting, for the first time in more than two decades, the IWC members voted 33 to 32 with one abstention in favor of whaling. The Declaration stated that the moratorium on whaling was "no longer necessary."

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Two blue whales in Icelandic waters. Abundant in most oceans until about 1900, hunting of the species was outlawed in 1966 as they neared extinction. Up to 12,000 blue whales exist worldwide today. (Photo courtesy IFAW)
"We do not believe that the current set-up within the IWC reflects true international opinion and believe that the dynamics and focus of the only internationally recognized organization responsible for the protection of cetaceans will now alter dramatically to favor whaling," the government said in a statement.

The European Commission also is encouraging those member states and accession countries that are not members of the IWC to join.

The Brazilian Alternate Commissioner to the IWC said Monday that Brazil and at least 22 other pro-conservation countries will not recognize the Japanese call for an "informal meeting" in Tokyo February 13-15 to negotiate the resumption of large-scale commercial whaling.

Commissioner Jose Truda Palazzo, Jr. said the decision was taken by these countries "as a response to Japan's refusal to halt irregular 'scientific' whaling in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary and to campaign against further protected areas in the Southern Hemisphere."

On Monday in Brasilia, Palazzo was awarded the National Environmental Prize for his work to protect right whales and other cetaceans. The prize was created by an alliance of Brazilian press and business companies.

He said that Brazil and the other Latin countries in the IWC will not negotiate with Japan before it halts whaling in the Southern hemisphere and agrees to a Whale Sanctuary in the South Atlantic Ocean.

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Brazil's Alternate Commissioner Jose Truda Palazzo, Jr. and Commissioner Maria Teresa Pessoa at the 2004 IWC meeting in Sorrento, Italy. (Photo by Heather Rockwell courtesy CSI)
The Latin countries have repeatedly proposed such a sanctuary at IWC meetings for years, only to have the proposal defeated by the pro-whaling voting bloc led by Japan.

"The meeting called by Japan is just another political move aimed at weakening the global moratorium, and to bring back the bad old days of widespread abuse on these animals which are a global heritage we must strive to protect", he said.

Southern nations, in particular Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Chile, Australia and New Zealand, promote non-lethal use of whales through ecotourism as an alternative to whaling, and do not want to see this use threatened by the Japanese intent to engage in widespread killing of these animals, said Palazzo.

"Whales are not fish and their management is not even remotely like fisheries. We must see whales as a shared marine biodiversity heritage which cannot again be threatened by the greed of hyper-developed nations," said Commissioner Palazzo.

The IWC will hold its next annual meeting in May in Anchorage, Alaska. Palazzo says the pro-conservation countries will "insist on a halt of all whaling in the Southern Hemisphere as a precondition to negotiating any concessions."

The recruitment of countries to the pro-whaling and anti-whaling voting blocs within the IWC began in the late 1970s by conservationists seeking obtain the necessary three-quarters majority vote to implement the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

More recently, Japan has been subject to accusations of vote-buying as it has recruited small nations to the pro-whaling side with promises of Overseas Development Assistance, ODA.

Japan has given millions of dollars in overseas aid to Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Guinea, Morocco, Panama, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the Solomon Islands. Caribbean countries have consistently sided with Japan in each IWC vote since 2001.

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Japanese IWC Commissioner Masayuki Komatsu (Photo courtesy Government of Japan)
When allegations of vote buying by Japan emerged at the London IWC meeting in 2001, Japanese Commissioner Masayuki Komatsu said, "If Japan was buying votes, you would see 150 nations in the IWC and as a consequence the unnecessary moratorium would have been lifted years ago."

But just before the London meeting, Komatsu told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that because Japan has little military power it must rely on "diplomatic communication and ODAs [Overseas Development Assistance]."

All of this worries the British government, which said Wednesday, "Unless more conservation-minded countries join the IWC in the very near future, at this year's meeting the pro-whaling nations are likely to consolidate their position, to dominate the IWC agenda, introduce secret ballots and reverse previous resolutions aimed at conserving and protecting whales."