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Monday, 12 June, 2000, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Whaling ban 'should stay'
humpback whale leaping
The prospect of ending the ban has alarmed whale-lovers
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The suggestion by the secretary of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Dr Ray Gambell, that commercial whaling should be allowed again, has alarmed many conservationists.

Both Japan and Norway are rich countries where whale meat is a luxury food - that's not much justification for resuming whaling

Elliot Morley, UK Fisheries Minister
Dr Gambell told BBC News Online it would be "much better" if the whaling done by Norway and Japan were "brought within international regulations".

Both countries use loopholes in IWC regulations. Japan says its whaling is for scientific research, while Norway refused to accept the commercial whaling ban agreed by the IWC in 1986.

Together they are expected to catch more than 1,000 minke whales this year. Minkes are the smallest of the great whales, and are relatively abundant.

"Governments decide policy"

Richard Page, whale campaigner with Greenpeace UK, told BBC News Online: "Ray Gambell was expressing his personal opinion. But it's governments who decide IWC policy.

greenpeace inflatable at whaler's bows
Greenpeace confronts a Japanese whaler
"Many countries remain adamantly opposed to ending the 1986 moratorium, and many are now reaping the benefits from whale-watching.

"After its last season in the Antarctic, Japan received formal diplomatic protests from several countries, including the UK and the US.

"They said that it should not have been whaling in the Antarctic at all, because it is a whale sanctuary, that the research was not needed, and that Japan was undermining the moratorium.

"What the IWC should be doing is closing the loopholes that let Japan kill whales for so-called research, and allow Norway to continue whaling because it rejected the ban in the first place."

Illegal catches

Professor John Harwood, of the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St Andrews, UK, told BBC News Online: "It's a very tricky decision.

"Scientifically, we do have the technology now to let whales be exploited with very little risk of extinction.

"The question is whether it could be implemented in practice. You can sympathise with those countries that want the right to whale, but if the ban ends it will be easier for illegal whalers to sneak their catches onto the market.

harpooned minke
Killing whales is inevitably uncertain
"A lot of people will argue that it would open the door to abuse - that no matter how sophisticated the mathematics and the technology, if there's money to be made then someone will find a way round the rules.

"The risk is not for the minkes, but for other species. And even if killing times are much faster than they were, are they acceptable even now for creatures which so many people believe to be special?

"Science can give you much of the basis for making a decision. But it can't answer all the questions."

Luxury food

The UK Fisheries Minister, Elliot Morley, told BBC News Online the country's position was very clear - it opposed a return to commercial whaling.

"We don't think the conditions are right. Even limited whaling could encourage illegal whalers, with a possibility that protected species would be hunted.

"There's also the question of why we should have commercial whaling again in any case.

"There's no need for it. Both Japan and Norway are rich countries where whale meat is a luxury food. That's not much justification for resuming whaling."

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11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban set to end
25 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan angry over NZ whaling criticism
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