Link to BBC Homepage

Front Page







World News in Audio

On Air


Talking Point


Low Graphics


Site Map

Wednesday, May 6, 1998 Published at 10:36 GMT 11:36 UK


Battle to save the ocean nomad
image: [ Sources: WWF, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society ]
Sources: WWF, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society

Sixteen years after a global moratorium on whaling was announced, the campaign to save these vast creatures is as vibrant as ever.

The subject is even more high profile than usual this month as Norwegian fishermen set out for the start of the whaling season and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) holds its annual meeting.

Some activists may be planning to sabotage the hunt. Last year one whaling boat was set alight by a previously unknown group called Agenda 21. But well-established environmental groups like Greenpeace will focus their attention on the 50th meeting of the IWC in Oman, which starts on May 16.

"Whaling can never be controlled" - Greenpeace
The IWC, which regulates whale hunting, agreed a worldwide moratorium on whaling in 1982. It came into force in 1986, but with huge profits to be made on the illegal trade of whale meat to Japan and Korea, Norway objected and continued commercial whaling until 1987.

After a six-year self-imposed break, Norway resumed the hunt in 1993 following a ruling by the Scientific Committee of the IWC that the minke whale was no longer in danger.

Increasing quotas

[ image: Whales are the largest animals on earth]
Whales are the largest animals on earth
The commission would not discuss quotas, so Norway imposed its own. Over the years, these have gradually increased. This month 30 whalers will get licences to hunt 671 animals.

The Norwegian Government argues that minke whales are no longer an endangered species and are actually a threat to fishstocks. It says local fishing communities depend on whaling as a livelihood and a source of food. But environmentalists point out that much of the meat and blubber is stored in freezers, wrapped and packed for export to the lucrative Japanese market.

Japan is also keen to get back to large-scale commercial whaling after restricting itself to small-scale kills under the guise of "scientific research", while the US and Canada are under pressure from indigenous groups whose whaling traditions go back hundreds of years.

The Irish Compromise

In order to accommodate both whaling and anti-whaling interests, the IWC will be discussing an initiative proposed by the Irish Commissioner, Michael Canny, at last year's meeting in Monaco.

Known as the Irish Compromise, it would allow controlled coastal whaling for domestic consumption in exchange for a global whale sanctuary outside nations' exclusive economic zones (EEZs), a total ban on international trade and the phasing out of scientific whaling.

Whale campaigners would be deeply unhappy if such a compromise were agreed. They believe the IWC rulings are already riddled with loopholes. Since rulings are non-binding, Japan and Norway can continue whaling in some form or another with no fear of a reprimand.

Only last month, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) accused Japan of conducting a large-scale whale hunt in the Antarctic Ocean, which was declared a whale sanctuary by the IWC four years ago. The WWF said that a Japanese factory ship accompanied by three whale catching boats returned to Japan with more than 400 minke whales.

There is no doubt that an international blackmarket in whale meat is thriving. DNA 'fingerprinting' carried out by the Univeristy of Auckland disproved claims that whale meat found in Japanese and Korean fish markets came from frozen stockpiles from before the ban imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

It showed that meat from the humpback, fin, blue, killer and Bryde's whales had been sold throughout the 1990s. Some of these species have not been legally hunted for 30 years.

The El Niño factor

[ image: Norwegian fisherman are proud of their whaling heritage]
Norwegian fisherman are proud of their whaling heritage
Greenpeace, along with other green groups like the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, will be there in Oman this month.

"The majority of people in the world want to see an end to commercial whaling. We want to make this clear," said Greenpeace whale campaigner Robert Page.

His organisation believes that no amount of whaling is tolerable, not only because of public opinion but also because of environmental factors.

Whales, along with dolphins and porpoises, are also at risk from fishing nets, chemical and persistent organic pollutants such as PCBs and changing weather patterns caused by the El Niño effect.

Unusual movements in ocean currents have left some waters in the Antarctic devoid of plankton and other species.

Whales tend to feed around the ice edge. Recent research has shown that this has retreated by as much as 25% in the last 25 years. With its food source diminishing, the whales of the southern ocean are in danger of starving to death.

Making a killing from eco-tourism

All is not doom and gloom for this ancient and mysterious ocean nomad. Many countries, like South Africa, New Zealand and more recently Scotland, have switched from whale killing to whale watching.

[ image: Whale-watchers in Kaikoura, New Zealand]
Whale-watchers in Kaikoura, New Zealand
Iceland has developed a thriving industry in eco-tourism. The number of passengers booked on whale-watching trips shot up from 1,500 in 1995 to 20,500 last year.

Mr Page, at Greenpeace, is unsure whether Norway could be persuaded to do the same. "There seems to be a certain amount of national pride tied up in maintaining their whaling industry," he said.

"However if they look at Iceland they could see they could benefit in the long term ... if they were to develop that industry."

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage


Link to BBC Homepage

  Relevant Stories

03 May 98 | World
Norway's commercial whaling season opens

18 Apr 98 | World
Yeltsin urged to save the whales

  Internet Links

World Wildlife Fund for Nature

Minke Whaling - Norway Online

Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species

International Fund for Animal Welfare

Greenpeace International

International Whaling Commission

Whaling Information from Japan

Whales on the Net

Whalenet - educational information on whales

Marine Mammal Management debate - from whaler group

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.
In this section

From Business
Microsoft trial mediator appointed

Violence greets Clinton visit

From Entertainment
Taxman scoops a million

Safety chief deplores crash speculation

Bush calls for 'American internationalism'

Hurricane Lenny abates

EU fraud: a billion dollar bill

Russian forces pound Grozny

Senate passes US budget

Boy held after US school shooting

Cardinal may face loan-shark charges

Sudan power struggle denied

Sharif: I'm innocent

From Business
Vodafone takeover battle heats up

India's malnutrition 'crisis'

Next steps for peace

Homeless suffer as quake toll rises

Dam builders charged in bribery scandal

Burundi camps 'too dire' to help

DiCaprio film trial begins

Memorial for bonfire dead

Spy allegations bug South Africa

Senate leader's dismissal 'a good omen'

Tamil rebels consolidate gains

New constitution for Venezuela

Hurricane pounds Caribbean

Millennium sect heads for the hills

South African gays take centre stage

Lockerbie trial judges named

World Contents

Middle East
South Asia
From Our Own Correspondent
Letter From America