IWC passes pro-whaling resolution after close vote

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Monday, June 19, 2006

The International Whaling Commission

Pro-whaling countries within the International Whaling Commission celebrated yesterday after a resolution was passed which stated that the commission's 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling is "no longer necessary" and which went on to blame whales for depleting fish stocks. 33 countries voted in favour of the resolution, with 32 voting against, and China abstaining. The vote is considered a victory for Japan, which has long argued for a return to commercial whaling, and has been 'recruiting' sympathetic nations to join the IWC in order to bolster its vote.

The vote does not directly enable a return to commercial whaling, as that would require a three quarters majority, but is significant in being the first time that a major vote at the IWC has sided with the pro-whaling nations in two decades.

Previous votes during the conference had been narrowly won by the anti-whaling group of countries, including a motion to introduce secret ballots, to introduce an exemption allowing Japanese coastal communities to whale, the elimination of a Southern Ocean whale sanctuary and a block on the IWC discussing dolphins and porpoises.

Commercial whaling has been banned under the IWC moratorium since 1986, but some whaling has been able to continue. Japan and Iceland have hunted a number of Minke whales every year under an exemption for 'scientific whaling'. Norway flat out refused to accept the original ban. The stated aims of scientific whaling are to examine the stomach contents of captured whales, in order to examine the whale ecosystem and the effect that whales may have on fish stocks. However, the whale meat from scientific whaling catches is usually sold commercially in order to fund the research. Some observers, including scientists from New Zealand, have accused Japan and Iceland of simply using scientific whaling as a legal loophole. Other whaling allowed under the IWC moratorium includes subsistence whaling by aboriginal groups.

A humpback whale

Greenpeace activist Adele blogged the news from their Stockholm office expressing reservations over the legitimacy of the vote saying it would "change little or nothing" as previous votes had already been passed in favour of the anti-whaling group of countries. Mike Townsley from Greenpeace International said, "Greenpeace is disgusted that any member of the IWC would seek to promote whaling based upon the false notion that whales consume so much fish that they are a threat to food security for coastal nations". He added that the declaration was more like a whaler's "wish list, peddling predictable and well-rehearsed rhetoric".

A paragraph within the declaration passed at the IWC meeting suggested that a number of international NGOs with self-interest campaigns were using threats in an attempt to direct government policy "on matters of sovereign rights related to the use of resources for food security and national development". In response, Greenpeace says they were dedicated to the principles of "peaceful protests", adding that the threat was to the world's whales. They stated that they had "delayed, disrupted and documented hunts in the Southern Ocean" in order to defend the whales, however.

Dr. Joth Singh from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said, "after losing on every single proposal they brought to this meeting, the whaling countries and their supporters cooked up a non-binding statement, sprang it on the commission and pushed it to a vote - they want to kill whales, and they're willing to kill the Commission to do it." He added that they were concerned, but not disheartened by the news.

Japanese commissioner, Mr Minoru Morimoto, praised the winning vote and said the declaration "added weight to Japan's proposal to normalize the IWC and bring it back to its original function of managing and regulating sustainable commercial whaling."

The IWC has historically always voted against pro-whaling motions by a majority of around ten votes, but the number of members favoring a return to commercial whaling has increased in recent years, with Japan persuading several new countries to join the IWC, including many that have never done any whaling at all. As Japan has given aid to some of these new countries, some observers have accused it of buying votes.

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Sources

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