June 16, 2006

Japan Defeated On Whaling, Green Groups Relieved

By Michael Christie

FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts and Nevis -- Japan suffered a resounding defeat on Friday at the International Whaling Commission, calming fears among conservationists that might finally win enough support in the world body to start attacking a ban on whaling.

The commission voted against two proposals by Japan, one for secret ballots that it said would allow Caribbean and Pacific nations to back its pro-whaling stance without fear of reprisal, and another to prevent the IWC from discussing the fate of dolphins and porpoises as well as whales.

Anti-whaling countries led by Australia, Britain, New Zealand and South Africa, and environmental groups, breathed a sigh of relief that their darkest fears -- of a whaling body dominated by pro-whaling Japan -- had not come about.

"So far we have managed to dodge the harpoon," said Joth Singh, director of wildlife and habitat protection for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, at the IWC's June 16-20 meeting in the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Japan has sought for years to overturn the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling and had been expected to be closer than ever this year to securing a majority in the IWC.

While a majority alone would not be enough to end the ban, credited with saving the great whales from extinction, it would have allowed Japan to turn the IWC away from protection and back into an organization that regulates whale hunting.

Environmental group Greenpeace said Friday's votes were "a victory for the whales, but no cause for complacency."

"We cannot continue year after year to see the fate of the whales hang by a thread," added Greenpeace International spokesman Mike Townsley.

Japan has abided by the moratorium on commercial whaling but uses a loophole that allows for scientific whaling. Its fleets brought back 850 minke whales from Antarctic waters last season and 10 fin whales, and it plans to hunt humpbacks.

Iceland also conducts scientific whaling while Norway, the only nation to defy the international ban, has set its hunters a quota this year of 1,052 minke whales, a small species whose meat is eaten as steaks.


Japan's alternate commissioner, Joji Morishita, said he was not surprised at how the votes had gone but was disappointed that the IWC had decided to maintain a fractious status quo.

"These whole meetings are a waste of time," he said.

The United States, regarded by both sides as a moderating voice, warned that other votes in the IWC meeting could still go Japan's way, and lamented that the acrimonious divide between pro- and anti-whaling countries had not been resolved.

"The bottom line is we got to save whales and we're not saving whales right now," Bill Hogarth, director of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, told Reuters, referring to the whales caught under science programs.

"For the future of the IWC and for the future of saving whales we need to make some progress," Hogarth said.

Japan and other whaling nations like Norway and Iceland almost got a simple majority at the annual IWC meeting a year ago in South Korea, but some allies failed to pay their dues and could not vote and others did not turn up.

Anti-whaling countries argue that whale-watching is more lucrative than killing them, and that the majestic creatures still need protection.

But Japan and its allies say some species of whales have recovered, and can be hunted in a sustainable manner. The say science should decide, not emotion.

"There are enough whales for those who want to watch them and for those who want to eat them," Morishita said in a briefing paper. "The situation is not different from a farm tour with a BBQ lunch."