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Indigenous Whaling Granted To Greenland

June 27, 2010

The annual meeting of the 88-nation International Whaling Commission came to an end with Greenland’s indigenous peoples winning the right to hunt 27 humpback whales over three years.

The self-ruled Danish territory will now be able to kill and consume nine humpbacks each year through 2012, with its existing quota of more than 200 minke and fin whales cut by the same number.

The decision was made on the final day of the IWC’s annual meeting in Morocco.

Earlier in the week a compromise deal between anti- and pro-whaling nations fell apart.

A 1986 ban on commercial whaling only allows “aboriginal subsistence whaling” so that native peoples can meet nutritional and cultural needs. Indigenous whaling was also granted to the Russian Far East and Alaska.

The only other nation allowed to kill humpbacks is St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean, which are allowed 4 kills each year.

During a tense plenary session at the meeting, Ane Hansen, Greenland’s fishing and hunting minister, said: “Our rights will be violated if we can’t get this resolution.”

Scientists with IWC had determined that harvesting 10 whales every year for ten years would not adversely affect humpback whale populations, Hansen noted.

The proposal, however, took sharp criticism from some of the 11 Latin American nations in the so-called Buenos Aires group.

Costa Rica’s top whaling negotiator, Eugenia Arguedas, said that just because the quotas will not affect the survival of stock “does not mean that they will not affect tourism in the Caribbean.” The same whale that might be killed off Greenland’s coastal waters also nourishes a booming whale watching industry in the Caribbean, she said.

Monaco’s Commissioner, Frederic Briand, also questioned whether whales were truly needed to meet the subsistence needs of Greenland’s Inuit population. “This population is not exactly starving. They enjoy one of the highest average household incomes in the world,” he said.

Though several nations criticized the rulings, most of the delegates backed it.

“You are talking about money from whale watching, but we are talking about food,” an indigenous delegate from Russia said angrily in support.

“There are two types of whaling, sustainable and non-sustainable. This is sustainable whaling,” Iceland’s top negotiator, Tomas Heider, told the plenary.

Delegates from Japan and several other nations warned that rejecting the Greenland proposal would further damage the already deeply stressed commission.

“I do not believe that purity and absolutism can be a guide for an International Organization that works,” said New Zealand’s Geoffrey Palmer, who backed the bid despite his country’s strong anti-whaling positions.

Despite the moratorium on commercial whaling, Iceland, Japan and Norway use legal loopholes to harvest hundreds of large cetaceans every year, more than 1,500 in the 2008-2009 season alone.

More than 33,000 whales have been killed since the global ban went into effect.

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