June 16, 2010

Nations Push To Develop New Whale-based Products

Companies in Norway, Japan and Iceland are betting heavily on the lifting of a commercial whaling moratorium, and are working to develop new whale-based products ranging from golf balls to hair dye, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).

As members of the 88-nation International Whaling Commission (IWC) prepare for a meeting next week in Agadir, Morocco, debate on the use of hunted whales has focused on meat consumption, particularly in Japan.

However, as the three nations harvesting the marine mammals despite a global moratorium, Norway, Japan and Iceland also exploit whales in other ways, and are considering future commercial applications, the report said.

Indeed, investigators have found thousands of patents approved for a variety of different products with ingredients such as whale oil, cartilage, and spermaceti -- a waxy liquid found in the head cavities of sperm whales.

"It is clear that whalers are planning to use whale oil and other whale derivatives to restore their hunts to long-term profitability," said Sue Fisher, head of the WDCS's whale campaign.

"Iceland, Japan and Norway are betting heavily that the commercial whaling moratorium will be lifted."

The new products, which include goods as diverse as candy, "eco-friendly" detergent, health drinks and bio-diesel, could ultimately dwarf the value of whale meat, she added.

Profit-driven whale hunting has been banned since 1986, and international trade in whales or whale parts is prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  However, Japan, Iceland and Norway have all used loopholes in the moratorium to continue killing the whales.

The IWC has been ineffective in stopping the practice due to divisions between pro-conservation and pro-whaling interests.

But a new proposal to be considered during next week's meeting in Agadir could pave the way to a compromise deal that all parties can accept, if reluctantly.

The 10-year plan calls for each whaling state to be granted annual kill quotas through 2020, amounting to some 12,000 specimens, in exchange for relinquishing their right to invoke unilateral exemptions or to hunt for "scientific" purposes.

Conservationists would finally achieve their goal of seeing what they call rogue nations brought into the IWC umbrella, along with the formation of a DNA-based monitoring system.  However, it's an achievement that comes at the cost of thousands of whales.

Although the compromise deal aims to create a pressure-free zone for reaching a permanent agreement, anti-whaling groups worry it will legitimatize commercial hunting and result in an overturn of the ban once the plan expires.

"We anticipate they will use these new pharmaceuticals, animal feed and personal care products to soften global opposition to whaling and challenge the ban on international trade," said WDCS trade analyst Kate O'Connell.

Japan already uses whale cartilage to make chondroitin for an arthritis treatment, collagen for anti-inflammatory treatments and beauty products, and as a common food additive known as oligosaccarides, the report said.

As the world's No. 1 exporter of fishmeal and oil for livestock and aquatic farming, Norway has already conducted research on how to incorporate whale products in to the manufacturing process. 

Norwegian researchers have studied the use of whale oil for pharmaceutical and health supplements, with at least one clinical trial underway to test its efficacy as a rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

Meanwhile, the government of Iceland has recently called for the creation of an industrial park in Hvalfiroi, where fin whales could be converted into meat, meal and oil.


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