Global Commercial Whaling Ban Upheld

ULSAN, South Korea, June 21, 2005 (ENS) - There will be no legal commercial whaling at least for another year, the International Whaling Commission has decided. Member governments voted today to uphold the 19 year old global whaling moratorium, handing a defeat to Japan and other pro-whaling nations.

Japan’s proposal to resume commercial whaling needed a three-fourths majority to succeed, but it failed to achieve even a simple majority. Commission members voted 29 to 23 against the proposal, with five abstentions.

s “This is a win for whales,” said Australian Environment Minister Senator Ian Campbell, a delegate at the meeting. "It’s also a win for the people of Australia and other like-minded nations, who were determined that the world would not take a step back towards the re-opening of commercial whaling."

"This morning, the world stood at the edge of an abyss," Campbell said. "If pro-whaling nations had succeeded, we would have moved back toward the dark ages of commercial whaling. Instead, the world moved forward into an era where conservation and the environment are the winners."

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Humpback whale in the Hawaiian Islands National Marine Sanctuary (Photo by Stan Butler courtesy NOAA)
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) member nations voted on Japan’s proposed Revised Management Scheme, a set of regulations that would govern any resumption of commercial whaling, banned worldwide since 1986.

Even IWC countries that are sympathetic to commercial whaling, such as China and Korea, withheld their support by abstaining from the vote.

Japan pleaded support for the Revised Management Scheme, saying that approval would restore the IWC to its original function, the management of whaling.

"This deadlock serves the sustainable whaling interests," said Rune Frovik, secretary of the High North Alliance, a pro-whaling organization based in Norway's Lofoten Islands. “There is no willingness to compromise. In such a situation, the whaling nations are perfectly capable of responsibly managing their whaling operations outside of IWC control.”

Norway conducts the world's only commercial whaling season, by taking a reservation to the IWC ban. Japan, Norway and Iceland advocate what they term "sustainable use" of whales, and are expected to kill at least 1,500 whales of six species this year.

Critics of the moratorium say Japan should leave the IWC and invite Iceland and Norway to join it in forming a new body that will regulate whaling and set sustainable whaling quotas, functions they say were the original purpose of the IWC.

On Monday, Japan introduced a plan to more than double its annual "scientific research" kill of minke whales to 935 from 440 this year under a scientific whaling program allowed under the IWC rules. The new plan adds humpback and fin whales to the kill list, which already includes sperm, sei and Bryde's whales that Japan has taken since 2002.

Environmentalists and conservation countries say this is commercial whaling in disguise.

“The whales won this one,” said Dr. Joth Singh, director of Wildlife and Habitat for the International Fund for Animal Welfare at the IWC meeting. “We’re heartened that the pro-conservation majority at the IWC has rejected the Japanese plan. But the harsh reality is that thousands of whales will still be killed later this year when Japan sends its fleet out to kill whales in the name of science."

“This vote exposed the countries whose only mandate at the IWC is to vote with Japan, along with Russia, Norway and Iceland,” said Nicola Beynon of the Humane Society International at the meeting.

Benyon says her organization fears that resolutions will come forward Wednesday to expedite a compromise with Japan at next year’s meeting. Such resolutions would only require a simple majority to succeed.

On Wednesday, the meeting will discuss sanctuaries and scientific whaling. Brazil and Argentina are putting forward their proposal for a South Atlantic sanctuary, while Japan is planning to abolish the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

Australia will forward a resolution condemning scientific whaling Wednesday, while Japan will propose a resolution to endorse it.

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A ceremony at the Ulsan Whale Festival, in Ulsan, South Korea, during the IWC meeting. June 19, 2005. (Photo © Greenpeace/Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert)
Greenpeacers who have been in Ulsan campaigning against whaling since April were delighted with the vote. But they decried Ulsan's Whale Festival which celebrates Ulsan's history of whaling. It is legal to eat whale meat in Korea if the whale is caught and killed accidentally while fishing, known as bycatch.

"By some amazing coincidence," Greenpeace said, several minke whales have been "accidentally" caught just in time for the Festival. One juvenile minke whale, caught two days ago, was sold for about US$31,000.

Greenpeace obtained video footage of the purchase of a whaling harpoon in an ordinary fishing tackle store, showing, the group says, "that some accidents aren't accidental."

Countries voting for the Japanese commercial whaling proposal: Antigua & Barbuda, Benin, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Dominica, Gabon, Grenada, Guinea, Iceland, Japan, Mauritania, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Russia, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & Grenadines, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Suriname, and Tuvalu.

Countries voting against the Japanese proposal: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Panama, Portugal, San Marino, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Countries abstaining: China, Denmark, Kiribati, Korea, Morocco