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Arner Bioerga, Bergun Institute of Marine Research
Why the lethal research is necessary
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Monday, 26 March, 2001, 00:51 GMT 01:51 UK
Norway may kill dolphins for research
Pacific white-sided dolphin AP
Catching dolphins will inflame conservation groups
By BBC News Online's environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Norway, one of the two countries still hunting whales, is considering killing dolphins for scientific research.

Norway has described as completely untrue suggestions that it is planning to step up its whaling operations.

It says the suggestions, quoting a senior official and reported in an Oslo newspaper, were probably a misunderstanding. But BBC News Online has learnt that Norway is considering a limited catch of dolphins for research.

The plan, if it is approved, would dismay conservation groups.

Norway continues whaling

The suggestions that Norway, which with Japan continues to catch whales despite the international moratorium on commercial whaling in force since 1986, surfaced in the Oslo newspaper Dagbladet on 12 March.

A minke whale is harpooned PA
Norwegians and Japanese still catch whales
A signed article quoted the Norwegian member of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), Odd Gunnar Skagestad, as saying that Norway would press at the IWC meeting in London in July for an end to the ban on the use of factory ships for hunting sperm whales, orcas (killer whales) and baleen whales (species without teeth which filter their food from seawater).

For some years, Norway has been catching minke whales, the smallest of the great whales, in the north-east Atlantic, and it plans to catch 549 minkes when this year's season starts in mid-May.

Mr Skagestad was also quoted as saying that while Norway had no plans at the moment to hunt other species, the possibility of a wider hunt existed, because several species had large stocks and could therefore be hunted safely.

Distinct species

But the Norwegian Embassy in London said the report that its government was seeking to lift the ban on the use of factory ships was completely untrue.

At an IWC meeting last month, Norway had urged an end to the commercial moratorium, listed as paragraph 10(e) of the commission's schedule, but had not sought to amend paragraph 10(d), the section on factory ships.

Nor did Norway plan to extend its hunt to whales other than minkes, though it thought a recent decision by the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites) to treat minkes as two distinct species could have led to the confusion.

The Norwegian ambassador in London, Tarald Brautaset, told BBC News Online: "We have not put forward any proposal which would allow us to revert to larger-scale hunting, and we have no intention of going after species other than minkes.

"The allegations, I think, must be based on a misunderstanding. They are incorrect."

Norway denies hunting expansion

One anti-whaling group, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw), believes that Norway has adjusted the IWC's system for determining safe catches of whales to allow it to kill more minkes.

Minke whale is hauled aboard Norwegian trawler AP
Norway will catch 549 minkes this year
The system is known as the revised management procedure (RMP), and is largely theoretical because of the commercial whaling moratorium.

But Norway, which under IWC rules is not bound by the moratorium because it objected to its introduction, says it has always used the RMP to ensure that its catches remain within safe limits.

Ifaw says this year's planned catch of 549 minkes would have been "substantially lower" if Norway had stuck by the RMP without adjusting it.

But the embassy said Norway supported the RMP as it stood, and was not proposing to revise it.

Conservationists' concern

The IWC exists to protect the great whales, but has no say over dolphins, porpoises and smaller cetaceans.

So a proposal by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research to catch 60 dolphins for scientific research does not flout IWC rules, but is likely to cause deep concern to conservation groups, who believe that the commission's protection should extend to these smaller species.

The institute has applied for permission to catch two species, the white-beaked dolphin and the similar but distinct white-sided dolphin.

It says there are 132,000 of the two species in the north-east Atlantic, the area where it wants to hunt them, with the white-sided dolphin accounting for 10% of the total.

It says it wants to find out how the mammals behave in the marine ecosystem, and its request now awaits a decision by the fisheries minister.

Vassili Papastavrou, of Ifaw, told BBC News Online: "I think this research is completely unnecessary. Any data it might produce could easily be obtained by using dolphins trapped accidentally in fishing nets."

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16 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Dolphin hunting thrives in Japan
04 May 00 | UK
Whaling plans cause outrage
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