Another Close Call for the Whaling Moratorium

At the 58th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) last week in St. Kitts and Nevis, member countries voted 33 to 32 in favor of a resolution declaring the international ban on commercial whaling “no longer necessary.” As in previous years, however, the resolution did not win the two-thirds majority vote necessary to overturn the ban, which has been in effect since 1986. About half the countries in the IWC are pro-conservation and half are pro-whaling, and conservation-minded nations, backed by international public opinion, have always assembled enough votes to uphold the moratorium.

Three nations persist in whaling despite the 20-year-old ban. Japan exploits a loophole in the IWC rules that allows hunting whales for “scientific” purposes, and practices large-scale whaling even within so-called whale sanctuaries. Norway and Iceland whale under a formal objection to the IWC moratorium. In total, more than 24,000 whales have been killed since 1985, and catch numbers continue to grow.

Because of the size and scope of its operations, Japan typically receives the most condemnation for its whaling practices. But the other two nations are not exempt. In April, the United Kingdom led a coalition of 12 countries in formally opposing Norway’s whaling practices. For its part, Norway claims that the only whale it hunts, the minke, is in plentiful supply in the North Atlantic, with the 2006 catch representing only about 1 percent of the total stock. “The quota is based on cautious estimates,” explains Karsten Klepsvik, the country’s whaling commissioner.

Japan, like Norway, cites its own scientific research to defend the rising quotas and has accused the Western media of misrepresenting the facts. The governments of both nations argue that minke whales, which feed in waters rich in other marine life, deplete the commercial fishing stock.

But many governments, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and other groups insist that whaling nations are not using the best science to back their arguments. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) maintains that Japan relies on inhumane scientific practices dating back to 1946, the year the whaling convention was drafted, and ignores modern scientific evidence that works against its whaling agenda. WWF contends, for example, that Japan needlessly slaughters sei whales, ostensibly to discover the animals’ eating habits, even though such information is already widely known.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.