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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Head-to-head: Whaling
With the 54th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) currently taking place in Japan, BBC News Online highlights both sides of the debate on whether commercial whaling should be permitted.

Rune Frovik from the pro-whaling, High North Alliance, and Kate O'Connell, who works for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) explain their viewpoints.

Rune Frovik, High North Alliance

While fishing continues to enjoy almost universal acceptance as a means of food production, Western urban society has decided unilaterally to shut down whaling with complete disregard for any culture which still practises it.

Beset with environmental challenges and yet respectful of cultural differences, the world community has thankfully embraced the principle of sustainable.

We have agreed that the use of renewable natural resources is acceptable provided rates of usage are within the resources' capacity for renewal.

Yet the West's cultural imperialists would have whales exempted from the sustainable use principle - an exemption that would, quite simply, place them above and apart from the animal kingdom to which they obviously belong.

For people who live close to nature, and in particular in regions where ecosystems contain limited numbers of species, those species that do exist often play vital roles, both nutritional and cultural, in people's lives.

Thus, inhabitants of the Arctic will continue to harvest what nature provides, be it seals, fish, birds ...or whales. And in the interest of self-preservation, they will strive to do so sustainably.

Coastal whaling as practised by local communities, even when it involves cash and (heaven forbid) profit, has proved to be sustainable and environmentally sound.

To ensure that the oceans continue to serve as one of our most important food reservoirs, there are many problems that must be addressed, notably over-fishing, wasted by-catches and pollution.

But these must be addressed by improving our management in accordance with agreed principles, not by launching destructive attacks on those who engage in exactly what we are striving for - sustainable use - because our cultural bias finds a particular harvest unpalatable.

True environmentalists are concerned not with appearances but with practising the principles that they preach.

In so doing, they have either reached the conclusion, or are getting there, that whaling should not only be continued, but should even be increased to provide more people with a healthy and nutritious source of protein in a way that is much more environment-friendly than eating beef or pork.

Kate O'Connell, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

The commercial whaling industry is driven by short-term economic incentives and has persistently abused international conservation regulations.

Violations of International Whaling Commission (IWC) rules were a significant reason why the moratorium on commercial whaling was implemented in the first place.

Since the supposed bans on commercial whaling and international trade in whale meat were implemented in the 1980s, more than 20,000 whales have been killed and more than 1,000 tonnes of smuggled whale meat destined for Japan have been seized.

Researchers have found meat from endangered species, including sperm, humpback and blue whales, on sale in Japanese markets, despite these species being protected from hunting and international trade for many years.

The whaling industry blatantly disregards the conservation status of whales.

Japan has expanded its so-called "scientific hunts" to include endangered sperm and sei whales, and in the North Pacific has targeted the J stock of minke whales, which the IWC has classified as a Protection Stock.

In 2001, a new population estimate for the Southern Hemisphere minke showed a dramatic decline (to 268,000) from the previously accepted estimate of 766,000.

Yet Japan continues to kill minke whales each year in the Southern Ocean, despite its designation by the IWC as a whale sanctuary.

Such deliberate defiance of IWC conservation mandates, coupled with historic under-reporting of catches and the exceeding of quotas, contribute to the WDCS belief that whaling is uncontrollable.

Research reveals that cetacean products are contaminated, despite claims by Japan and Norway that whales are a healthy food-source for humans.

A study commenced by independent scientists in Japan in 1999 shows that more than half of whale products sold contain such high levels of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), DDT, and mercury that they exceed both Japanese and international advisory limits set for human consumption.

One of the most potent arguments against whaling is its high degree of cruelty.

Even today, using modern hunting techniques and equipment, the time it takes for a whale to die after being harpooned remains unacceptably high.

With estimates ranging from within a few minutes to more than one hour, many animals clearly suffer considerable pain and distress over long periods of time.

Commercial whaling is a failed experiment, an unnecessary industry whose time has come and gone. It has proven itself to be uncontrollable, unhealthy, and inherently cruel.

See also:

20 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 May 02 | Science/Nature
16 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
08 May 02 | Science/Nature
25 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
04 Oct 01 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
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