Conservation Countries Still a Majority at Whaling Commission

ULSAN, South Korea, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - The International Whaling Commission took the first votes of its 2005 annual meeting this morning and they show that anti-whaling countries retain the majority they have held for the past 20 years.

Anti-whaling nations and conservation groups were relieved that Japan did not succeed in an attempt to remove all the items dealing with conservation, sanctuaries, whale watching, and animal welfare from the Commission’s agenda, due to the interventions of Australia and New Zealand.

“With all the threats that whales face in the 21st century, from pollution to depleted krill stocks, it was incredible that pro-whaling countries thought the IWC should confine itself to the promotion of whale hunting and not bother with conservation,” said Humane Society International President Patricia Forkan.

One of the key items to be discussed at the IWC meeting, which continues all this week, is a proposal from pro-whaling countries - Japan, Norway, Iceland and their allies - for a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) for commercial whaling.

The RMS consists of a series of management measures - compliance arrangements, catch limits, and inspection and observation schemes - to be implemented should IWC members ever agree to the resumption of commercial whaling.

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South Korean Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Oh Keo-don (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
South Korean Minister of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Oh Keo-don told reporters after the opening ceremony of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting that his government supports lifting of the current moratorium on commercial whaling, but does not back whale hunting.

Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell said his government is "in vigorous pursuit of a permanent ban on commercial whaling."

"We oppose commercial whaling on the basis it is unnecessary, unjustified and inhumane. We will oppose any RMS and will not endorse an RMS should one be agreed," he said. Senator Campbell said he expected the vote this year to be very close - too close to call.

The other key issue for Australia at this year's IWC meeting is the submission of Japan's new Antarctic scientific whaling plan - known as JARPA II.

Japan released details of JARPA II today at the opening of the IWC meeting, calling it "a long-term research program of undetermined duration."

The plan is to take up to 935 minke, 50 humpback and 50 fin whales per year. The first two years will be a feasibility study, in which no humpback whales will be taken, and the number of fin whales will be limited to a maximum of 10.

Japan also conducts a research program in the western North Pacific under which whalers take 150 minke whales, 50 Bryde’s whales, 50 sei whales and 10 sperm whales each year.

With the new Antarctic whaling program in place, the amount of whale meat to be available to Japanese diners will more than double, from about 2,000 metric tons to about 4,500 tons of whale meat each year.

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Antarctic minke whales like this remain abundant in most areas, according to the IWC. (Photo courtesy IWC)
"We are very concerned about Japan's plans to double its take of Antarctic minke whales and to target threatened humpback and fin whales," Senator Campbell said.

Australia will call for an end to lethal research on whales and for future research to be limited to modern and humane non-lethal methods.

This afternoon there will be a vote on whether all future votes can be conducted in secret.

French Polynesia has publicly opposed the Japanese move to increase its whaling during the 2005-2006 season. The official Tahiti government declaration approved Wednesday states that French Polynesia waters provide shelter for many species of marine mammals and plays an important role in the reproduction of whales. French Polynesia intends to preserve its exceptional natural heritage for future generations, the declaration states.

For the fifth year running, a proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary will be presented by the governments of Argentina, Brazil and South Africa. In their sanctuary proposal, the three countries say, "The South Atlantic Ocean has been the scene of the reckless slaughter of most of the species of large whales, not only by coastal whaling that goes back to the early settlement times, but in more recent decades by pelagic fleets foreign to the region and largely detached from the South Atlantic nations´ legitimate interests in the management of whale resources."

"Some of these fleets have consistently captured protected species and disregarded regulations set forth by the IWC itself, therefore imposing further damage on species and stocks and preventing until today an adequate evaluation of the impacts of pelagic whaling in the regional context," the South Atlantic countries state.

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Fin whales are a primary target for modern whaling, the IWC says, they are "heavily reduced," particularly in the North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere. (Photo courtesy IWC)
In their proposition, the South Atlantic countries say they wish to reassert their conservation interests in the light of the growing and highly qualified regional contribution towards research and the undeniable economic interest of many developing countries in the development of sustainable non-lethal uses of whales, particularly whale watching. "This industry constitutes an entirely viable use of whale resources, in urgent need of sounder scientific basis for its management," they say.

The first guide to watching whales and dolphins in four countries across East Asia was introduced today at the IWC meeting by two conservation groups, to showcase this economic alternative to whaling.

Produced by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the book explores the whale watching opportunities available in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

A total of 41 different species of whales and dolphins are found off the coasts of these countries - almost half of all known cetacean species.

These cetaceans include the critically endangered Western Pacific grey and North Pacific right whales, the pink Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and the minke whale, which is the species most frequently targeted by Japanese whalers.

Japanese whale watching, which focuses on some 20 species, began in 1988 and has grown since then. Japan has an estimated 100,000 whale watchers in at least 20 communities, by contrast with 11,000 in 1991.

The urban whale watching in Hong Kong focuses on one species, the pink dolphins.

In Taiwan, whale watching began in 1997, and has grown to more than 200,000 passengers per year from half a dozen ports, numbers now higher than those in Japan. Korea currently has no commercial whale watching opportunities, but there is potential for this to be developed, from land and by boat.

"It's amazing to see how the communities in the region are enthusiastically embracing the concept of whale watching," says Erich Hoyt, WDCS Senior Research Fellow and author of the report.

"They recognize that the activity offers solid benefits, allowing local people to work together to develop an activity which - assuming trips are run to high standards - can be economically rewarding. With the presence of trained naturalist guides, whale watching can also contribute to environmental education, scientific research and conservation."

"Whale watching presents truly sustainable economic opportunities for coastal communities in Japan and other countries across Asia and worldwide" said IFAW spokesmanPatrick Ramage. "Animals and people both do better when whales are seen and not hurt."

"Watching Whales and Dolphins in Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea" (WDCS, IFAW, 48pp) is published in June in English. On August 10, the booklet will be issued in Japanese, Chinese and Korean, as well as reprinted in English, at Aichi Expo 2005, in Nagoya, Japan.

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The Virtual March logo is projected outside the hotel where the IWC meeting is being held, in Ulsan, South Korea (Photo © Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert)
"Whale watching may be the start of a new way to look at whales in the region," said Hoyt, "But a full range of conservation measures needs to be adopted to safeguard cetacean populations in the region."

On Sunday evening whale song rippled across the plaza in front of the meeting hall as the world's first "Virtual March" to save the whales was unveiled by Greenpeace. Thousands of photographs of anti-whaling activists from all around the globe were projected opposite the hotel where the IWC meeting is taking place.

Over 50,000 thousand people from 122 countries took part in the Virtual March by sending photographs of themselves with a banner expressing their concern about the fate of the world’s dwindling populations of whales.

Greenpeacer John Frizell said, "We have brought the protest from thousands of people to the decision makers, to show them that even though their decisions may be made behind closed doors, the whole world is watching."