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Friday, 27 July, 2001, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Green group backs limited whale hunt
Humpback's tail flukes Noaa
A humpback prepares to dive (Photo courtesy of Noaa)
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

One of the world's best-known conservation groups, WWF, says limited whaling may be the only way to prevent a free-for-all.

The message 'Just say no' hasn't worked with drugs, and it isn't working with whales

Gordon Shepherd, WWF
WWF, formerly known as the Worldwide Fund for Nature, says uncontrolled hunting of minke whales could start as early as next year.

WWF continues to believe that there should be no whaling at all.

But that policy is failing, it says, and so governments must think again.

Gordon Shepherd, director of the international policy unit at WWF's global HQ in Switzerland, explained the group's thinking in an interview with BBC News Online.

He was speaking on the last day of the annual meeting in London of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Mr Shepherd said: "As a conservationist, I say: 'Don't whale'. But that's not working.

Predictable voting

"If the IWC can't stop whaling, it has to control it. But it's not controlling it - the IWC is completely insane, almost dysfunctional.

"There is no willingness by either whalers or conservationists to understand each other. It's totally polarised - you can predict almost every vote before it's cast.

"This year the commission missed a chance to write into its schedule - effectively its constitution - a highly precautionary management system which would have set all catch quotas at zero while retaining the moratorium on commercial whaling enforced in 1985.

Protest poster A Kirby
"Whaling is genocide": Protest at the IWC meeting
"It would have been a safety net for any whaling that may happen in the future.

"If it misses that chance again next year, there is a very real possibility the IWC will be over-ruled at the conference of the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites).

"Cites has been asked time and again by Japan and Norway, the two whaling nations, to move the minke whale off Appendix I, which bans all trade, onto Appendix II, which permits controlled trade.

"Without a proper management regime in place at the IWC, Cites may downlist the minkes at its 2002 meeting.

"That would mean a free-for-all, with non-IWC members launching a completely uncontrolled hunt on the minkes to supply the Japanese market.

Preventing slaughter

"IWC members themselves would still be bound by the moratorium, unless they had objected to it in 1985.

Whales are electorally popular, and that's what decides policy here, not science

IWC observer
"Norway did object, and is doing commercial whaling. Russia also objected - and it could also start whaling again."

Asked if the logic of his position meant a few whales might have to die under IWC auspices to prevent a far larger, uncontrolled slaughter, Mr Shepherd agreed.

"The real answer is no whaling", he said. "But maybe we need a slightly more sophisticated answer.

"The message 'Just say no' hasn't worked with drugs, and it isn't working with whales."

Minke whale and calf BBC
Minkes could face an onslaught
Mr Shepherd's frustration with the IWC is shared by many others who attended the meeting.

One observer of the commission for many years told BBC News Online the IWC was "rotten from the core outwards".

Living in an anti-whaling European country, he spoke anonymously.

Cetacean votecatchers

He said: "The IWC ditched any attempt at science years ago, although it annually brings together the world's largest working group of cetacean scientists. It's just more blatant about it now.

"It can't go on like this. I think Norway can't take much more, it's getting near the brink, and perhaps others too.

"Countries like the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand ought to know better.

"But whales are electorally popular, and that's what decides policy here, not science."

The BBC's Joanne Tucker
"The anti-whaling lobby... accuse Japan of buying votes from poor countries"
See also:

26 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban survives intact
23 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Battle looms over whaling ban
11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban set to end
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