Australia Seeks Kiribati Support of Commercial Whaling Ban

CANBERRA, Australia, January 25, 2005 (ENS) - Australian government officials are urging the newest member of the International Whaling Commission, the small island nation of Kiribati, to follow Australia's lead in pursuing a permanent international ban on commercial whaling.

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer and Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said in a joint statement they are concerned that at a time when the International Whaling Commission is coming under increasing pressure from pro-whaling nations for the resumption of commercial whaling, the vote of Kiribati (pronounced Kir-ee-bass) might tip the balance in favor of whaling.


Australian Environment and Heritage Minister Senator Ian Campbell (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"I'm very worried about it," Senator Campbell said. "I think the world needs to know that this is something that is being pushed very strongly by powerful interests around the world. It is something that Australia will stand and fight against."

A moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1986 after several centuries of whaling had driven many whale species nearly to extinction. Today some of those species are starting to recover.

Japan engages in so-called "scientific" or "research" whaling under an IWC provision that permits the gathering of scientific information. With a long held cultural affinity for whale meat, the Japanese take at least 880 minke whales and 50 fin, sei and Bryde's whales each year, and sell the meat in the marketplace when they are finished examining the carcasses. Under IWC rules, all parts of the animals used for research should be utilized.

As smaller, poorer nations, such as Tuvalu, have joined the IWC, Japan has gathered them together in a bloc and secured their loyalty with foreign aid payments in exchange for their votes in favor of a resumption of commercial whaling at the annual IWC meetings.

The moratorium would require a three-quarters majority of the 58 IWC members to overturn. At recent meetings the vote has been too close for comfort, the Australian officials say.

"We believe," said Campbell, "that the so-called lethal research that takes place, or so-called scientific whaling is a disaster, a disgrace, is an insult to science at a time when Australians and New Zealanders, you know, get themselves into icy cold waters in Bass Strait trying to save whales, we have fishing, we have slaughter of minke whales being undertaken by the Japanese."


Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
"Whaling practices are cruel, whales take a long time to die and Australia believes that animal welfare and whale killing methods should be given priority consideration," Campbell and Downer said.

"We want to see that ended and we call on Kiribati to join us in this very important fight," said Campbell.

As Pacific neighbors, Kiribati and Australia have strong regional ties and have worked together on a range of regional reform issues. We would hope to work together to strengthen the resolve of the IWC to ban commercial whaling throughout the world."

Darren Kindleysides, who is an Asia Pacific marine campaigner with the International Fund for Animal Welfare, says, “Sadly, there is the real threat that, for the first time in the IWC’s recent history, the number of pro-whaling countries will outnumber those opposed to whaling. Given the delicacy of the current position, Kiribati’s vote could tip the scales either way. We implore Kiribati to vote for whale conservation, not whale exploitation."


Sailing in Kiribati waters. (Photo courtesy South Pacific Islands)
Kiribati is the second Pacific Island nation to have joined the IWC in the past year. Neighboring Tuvalu joined in June 2004, just in time to attend the last annual meeting of the IWC held in Italy last July. At that meeting, Tuvalu voted with the pro-whaling nations and against the conservation of the world’s whales. Tuvalu became the first South Pacific country to vote against setting up a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary.

Campbell said Australia was disappointed with Tuvalu's decision."We treat each country with respect," he said. "They've made a decision which we think is a very bad decision. We certainly hope the people of Kiribati would not support that sort of decision."

Campbell said Australia will never use the tactics of buying IWC votes with foreign aid, but instead will appeal to other nations to "judge themselves based on how they treat other species, and whales in particular, who are highly intelligent mammals who have been taken to the brink of destruction by previous generations."

"We want this generation to have achieved something substantial for future generations," the minister said, "and that is to save whale species from destruction and extinction and we ask the people of the Pacific Islands to share Australia's passion for that outcome."

The government of Kiribati has made commitments to whale conservation through various Pacific regional agreements including supporting the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, recognizing the Pacific is one of the world’s most critical areas for whale conservation.

Many people on both sides of this issue throughout the Pacific region will be watching Kiribati’s voting at the next IWC meeting in Korea in June. It is hoped that Kiribati will continue its support for the protection of the region’s whales and to respect the will of the majority of Pacific Island nations.

The government of Kiribati under President Antone Tong has given no indication of how it plans to vote at the 57th annual meeting of the IWC in Ulsan, Korea from June 20 to 24.