Japan Goes Whaling, IWC Commissioners Sign Protest Declaration

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina, November 8, 2005 (ENS) - Thirteen Latin and Southern Hemisphere countries plus Spain signed a declaration today condemning so-called scientific whaling in response to Japan and other whaling countries who ignore the worldwide moratorium on the killing of whales established by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The declaration, signed by six IWC commissioners and other government representatives, supports continuation of the 19 year old moratorium. It reaffirms their right to use and manage whales through non-lethal means, in particular whale watching and benign research.

Invited by former IWC Chairman Ambassador Eduardo Iglesias, the six IWC commissioners from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Australia and New Zealand, plus the Commissioner from Spain and diplomatic representatives from Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, South Africa and Uruguay gathered Monday for a two day meeting at the San Martin Palace, seat of Argentinian diplomacy in Buenos Aires.

They agreed to a six-point declaration and to coordinate their policies relating to whales to ensure that their views and concerns are heard in international meetings.

"Our priority is to end all whaling in the Southern Hemisphere, and we should be pooling our diplomatic efforts to that effect," said Brazilian Alternate IWC Commissioner Josť Palazzo.

The initiative coincides with today's sailing of the Japanese whaling fleet to the Antarctic, where Japan kills hundreds of whales annually in violation of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, established by the IWC in 1994.


The crew aboard a Japanese whaler measures the weight of a minke whale. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research, Japan)
Six ships of the Japanese whaling fleet sailed for the Southern Ocean on their first hunt after the Japanese government doubled its target catch from 440 minke whales per year to about 850 minke whales.

Leaving from the port of Shimonoseki in western Japan, the vessels also intend to catch 10 fin whales this season under what Japan calls its scientific whaling program, a plan issued by the Institute of Cetacean Research says.

Presented by the government of Japan at last summer's IWC meeting, the plan details a new comprehensive study under the Second Phase of the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic, combining lethal and non-lethal methods, starting from the 2005/06 austral summer season.

The first two years of the plan, through 2007, are devoted to feasibility studies of sighting and sampling procedures. "Methods for catching, flensing and taking biological measurements of large body-sized whales will be tested," the plan states.

During the "full-scale" long-term research program, which starts in the 2007/2008 austral summer season, the Japanese plan to take between 765 and 935 minke whales, 50 humpback whales, and 50 fin whales each year.

Japan says it conducts its whale hunt as permitted under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, administered by the International Whaling Commission.

But the former IWC commissioners and other diplomats at the Buenos Aires meeting say the Japanese program is harmful to the recovery of whales after hundreds of years of commercial whaling brought some species close to extinction.


A Bryde's whale is examined on deck of a Japanese whaler. The IWC has no population estimate for this species. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)
"It's about time that not only the whaling nations, but other developed countries up North take notice of our concerns with the escalation of unregulated whaling, and also of our strong commitment to ensure that whale populations in Latin America and the Southern Hemisphere recover from the criminal depletion brought about by commercial whaling," said Commissioner Palazzo.

"The newly formed consultative group will make sure no negotiations take place without considering our interests," Palazzo said. The Latin and Southern Hemisphere votes would be essential to approve any compromise agreement at the IWC as envisaged by the whaling countries.

The Buenos Aires Declaration, which is being forwarded today to the IWC, expresses the interest of Latin and Southern Hemisphere countries in finding an accomodation of interests in the IWC, which has been split in two over the past several years between pro-whaling and anti-whaling nations.

Countries at the Buenos Aires meeting decided to consider alternative negotiating processes to end the deadlock at the IWC, to ensure that their interest in non-lethal use is taken into account.

The declaration reaffirms their support for the commercial whaling moratorium; defends whale watching and non-lethal uses as the most appropriate whale management regime for their regions, and reaffirms support for the establishment of whale sanctuaries in the South Atlantic and South Pacific oceans. It calls for a halt of all so-called "scientific whaling" and of all cruel whale killing practices.

An unprecedented warning was also sent through the Declaration regarding the need to recognize non-lethal use of whales as an inherent right of coastal communities in developing nations.


Japanese crewmen take measurements of a sperm whale. The IWC does not have a population estimate for this species. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)
Countries at the meeting commited to "reassert the rights of our coastal communities to benefit from the non-lethal use of whales just as other communities elsewhere benefit from aboriginal subsistence whaling" and "agreed to follow closely the developments related to this latter activity."

The diplomats said this part of the declaration is meant as a message to Russia, which has aboriginal quotas and systematically opposes any pro-conservation initiatives at the IWC.

The next IWC meeting will take place in Cambridge, England in February 2006 in an attempt to overcome the differences and agree on a revised management scheme which could allow for a limited resumption of commercial whaling.

Many nations present at the Buenos Aires meeting expressed skepticism about this goal and insisted that without a commitment to protect the Southern Hemisphere whale populations, their votes will not be cast in favor of such a scheme.

The latest IWC population estimate for minke whales in the Southern Hemisphere was 761,000 in 1989. The Commission says it is unable to to provide reliable estimates at the present time. A major review is underway by the Scientific Committee.

View the Japanese long term whaling plan at: http://www.icrwhale.org/JARPAIIResearchPlan.htm

The International Whaling Commission is online at: http://www.iwcoffice.org