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Monday, 20 May, 2002, 10:25 GMT 11:25 UK
Analysis: Whaling antagonisms resurface
Blue whale from air   Noaa
Blue whale: The world's largest living creature, and now very rare

The annual International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Japan is likely to stir controversy once again.

Proposals include establishing new whale sanctuaries in the south Atlantic and the south Pacific, and the preservation of the existing sanctuaries in the Indian and southern oceans.

A proposal by Norway and Japan to resume trade in whale products will also excite controversy.

They are the two countries still killing whales, despite the moratorium agreed in 1986.

Japan aims to catch 440 minkes in the Antarctic this year, and in the north Pacific it will kill 150 minkes, 50 Bryde's whales and 10 sperm whales.

Conditional return

It also wants to catch 50 endangered sei whales there. It says its whaling is scientific - IWC rules allow an unlimited catch of any species for research.

Sperm whales   Noaa
Sperm whales: Hunted by Japan
Norway this year plans to catch 674 minkes off its coast. It is allowed to do so because it objected to the moratorium when it was introduced.

Iceland left the IWC in 1992 but now wants to rejoin. It agreed to the moratorium before resigning, but wants to rejoin with an objection, like Norway. On the first day of the meeting their application was rejected.

Clean hands claim

Sources in the Japanese whaling port of Shimonoseki, where the IWC is meeting, have told BBC News Online they doubt the the ban will be lifted this time round.

Japan is regularly accused of bribing smaller countries to support it at the IWC, by using its foreign aid to buy their votes.

It denies the allegation. British fisheries minister Elliot Morley said there was no evidence of Japanese bribery, and Britain would deplore any evidence that Japan was using its aid programme in this way.

Gabon, Palau, San Marino, Benin and Portugal have all joined the IWC recently. Not all are pro-whalers, but Mr Morley said he expected several to support Japan.

Preparing for the hunt

He told BBC News Online he was expecting a stormy meeting because the anti-whaling group to which the UK belongs might not be able to muster a simple majority.

Gray whale   Noaa
Gray whale: Subsistence whalers' target
If it does not, there could be agreement to go ahead with the IWC's revised management scheme (RMS), designed to regulate catch limits.

That would open the way for the resumption of commercial whaling, though probably not for several years.

If the anti-whalers do become a minority, Japan will seek to introduce secret ballots. Mr Morley said the UK would then ask members to declare publicly how they had voted.

Deadlock persists

The signs are that the IWC is set for another confrontational meeting as for years past.

The UK and its allies believe whaling is cruel and unnecessary, apart from subsistence hunting by small communities in the Arctic and the Caribbean.

Japan and Norway say they need to exploit all marine resources, and that the scale of killing they plan will not endanger any species. They say there is no scientific argument against a limited hunt.

The IWC itself, set up to regulate whaling, is now split between the two camps. Unless they agree, whaling could resume entirely outside its control.

Images courtesy of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa).

The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"This is a long standing dispute"
See also:

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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