- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tension among countries over commercial whaling intensified this week after a compromise by Japan to refrain from hunting humpback whales was denounced by several nations at the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

Japan, which for years has used a “scientific loophole” to hunt whales despite a 1986 international ban on commercial whaling, on Monday offered to halt plans to hunt 50 humpback whales in the South Pacific if its request for whale hunting by four coastal Japanese towns was accepted.

Japan said the communities, which have a long whaling tradition, should be allowed to resume the practice under IWC rules that permit certain aboriginal communities, such as Alaska Natives, to hunt the giant mammals.

The proposal was dismissed immediately by anti-whaling nations, including the United States, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Britain, Germany and New Zealand, who said the plan didn’t go far enough to protect whales.

The fate of the endangered creatures is not “a matter of horse trading and negotiations,” British Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner said.

Environmental groups also argued that the proposed aboriginal exemption for Japanese villages amounts to a form of commercial whaling. Tokyo insists that its proposal seeks to support indigenous “subsistence” activity with “strong enforcement, monitoring and 100 percent transparency.”

It was not certain yesterday whether Japan’s request had enough support for approval among the 76-member commission, which will meet through tomorrow. Also not certain is whether Japan would resume its plans to hunt humpback whales in the South Pacific if its offer is rejected.

Nations on both sides of the debate warned of the consequences of the commission’s decision on the Japanese proposal.

A humpback whale hunt by Japan would be a “very, very provocative act,” Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, warning that diplomatic ties between the two allies could strain if Tokyo proceeded with the move.

Joji Morishita, Japanese alternative commissioner to the IWC, warned of serious repercussions if Tokyo’s offer was rejected, adding that political pressure at home could force his nation out of the IWC.

“Unless we see clear, tangible progress at this meeting, my government will have a difficult time to continue at IWC,” he said. “We will be asked to reconsider our approach.”

Japan, the world’s biggest consumer of whale meat, has killed thousands of whales in recent years under an IWC program that allows the creatures to be killed for “research purposes.” Critics have accused Japan of exploiting the program, which allows the whale meat to be sold commercially, as a way of skirting the IWC’s commercial whaling ban.

Japan and a few other pro-whaling countries oppose the IWC’s 21-year moratorium on commercial whaling, saying that whale populations have increased significantly in recent years and that the ban is no longer necessary.

At the IWC’s 2006 conference, a Japanese-backed proposal to end the ban won a majority of the votes, 33-32. A three-quarters majority of members was required to lift the ban, but the vote was the closest that the pro-whaling movement has come to overturning the moratorium.

Despite the growing clout of Japan and other pro-whaling countries such as Norway and Iceland within the commission, it is unlikely they will have enough support to overturn the broad 21-year ban this week.

But with the commission almost evenly split on the question of banning commercial whaling, Japan has been courting fellow members to its side of the debate.

“The landlocked nation of Laos joined the commission this year and voted with Japan, so there is no question that is still a very strong force to reckon within the IWC,” said Karen Sack, whaling project leader for Greenpeace USA. “There is absolutely no room for complacency” among anti-whaling nations.

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