June 17, 2006
Greenland seeks to hunt humpback whales
By Michael Christie
FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts and Nevis (Reuters) - Greenland asked an international whaling body on Saturday to examine whether it could extend whaling by its Inuit hunters to endangered humpbacks and bowheads, alarming environmentalists.
Anti-whaling nations attending an International Whaling Commission, or IWC, meeting in the Caribbean island state of St Kitts and Nevis said they were opposed to the proposal given the fragile state of most whale species.
Environmentalists also said they were puzzled by the request because Greenland has for years failed to meet a quota of minke whales and fin whales that its indigenous hunters are permitted to catch under an exemption from an international moratorium on commercial whaling.
"We'd be very concerned about extending the hunt to two new species," said British Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw.
Commercial whaling was banned in 1986 to save great whales from extinction but the IWC issues quotas to aboriginal communities which have a tradition of whale hunting.
Japan and other pro-whaling nations had been expected to take control of the IWC at this year's meeting and to begin chipping away at the global whaling ban. But anti-whaling nations including Australia and South Africa managed to retain a slim majority when the gathering began on Friday.
Amalie Jessen, an alternate IWC commissioner for Denmark and Greenland's representative in the Danish delegation, said Greenland's haul of whale meat was consistently falling 220 metric tons short of its 670-tonne aboriginal quota.
The ice-capped Arctic country of 65,000 people is allowed to hunt 19 fin whales and 187 minkes, a small species. It voluntarily reduced its fin whale catch to 10 after scientists at the IWC said they could not guarantee that the full quota was sustainable.
Jessen said Greenland did not believe it could increase the number of minkes and fin whales that tits 2,500 whale hunters kill with exploding harpoons and rifles each year without putting a strain on those species.
It therefore wanted the IWC to conduct a study about humpback and bowhead whale numbers off West Greenland to see whether those two species might fill the gap.
"Our need of 670 tons could come from any large whale," Jessen told Reuters, adding that Greenland's request was simply a first step and a long process of scientific evaluation would occur before the Inuit began hunting humpbacks and bowheads.
Both humpback and bowhead whales are endangered. Humpbacks, which grow to 52 ft and can weigh up to 45 tons, are thought to number between 10,000 and 15,000 worldwide.
They are only hunted legally, and controversially, by the Caribbean country of St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Japan, which abides by the IWC's 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling but kills almost 1,000 minke whales a year under a scientific whaling program, has said it plans to start hunting a few humpbacks as well under the research scheme.
Bowhead whales can grow to 60 ft and weigh up to 90 tons. Alaska's Eskimos are allowed to kill 41 bowheads a year under an aboriginal hunting exemption.
Sue Fisher, deputy policy director in the United States for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, said Greenland had a tradition of hunting humpbacks prior to the 1986 ban.
"The bowhead was a surprise," she said.
Fisher said Greenland had never taken its full quota. "So the argument that it needs more meat ... just doesn't stack up."