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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 July, 2004, 13:58 GMT 14:58 UK
Japan plans pro-whaling alliance
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Sperm whales   Noaa
Sperm whales: Hunted by Japan
Japan has drawn up plans to replace the International Whaling Commission, whose annual meeting will start on 19 July.

The IWC remains deadlocked between the countries opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling and those, led by Japan, which say it should go ahead.

Members of Japan's ruling party now say they are prepared to go it alone and establish a new pro-whaling alliance.

They say in any case they may withhold part of their subscription to the IWC, in protest at its conservation work.

Implacable opposition

A paper prepared by a special working group of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which was passed to BBC News Online, reviews the possibilities for Japan to bypass the IWC, which the group describes as "totally dysfunctional".

The number of whales killed by Japan, Norway and Iceland since the IWC moratorium took effect in 1986 is 25,239
Most whales are killed with harpoons designed to explode inside them, though small traditional coastal communities use other methods
Opponents say the average estimated time to death is more than two minutes, with some whales taking over an hour to die
It was written against the background of years of paralysis in the IWC, which was set up in 1946 both to conserve whales and to develop the whaling industry.

The IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling, in effect since 1986, to let the whales recover from centuries of industrial whaling which had left some species near extinction.

Japan, Norway and Iceland want the moratorium lifted, and say there are enough of some species for a small annual catch.

But there is still a majority of IWC members, though a dwindling one, which opposes any resumption of whaling, not least because it insists the hunt is inherently too cruel to continue.

Taking the credit

The Japanese paper describes Tokyo's dismay that the IWC has still not agreed scientifically sustainable catch quotas, and that its 2003 meeting established a conservation committee "apparently designed only to protect whale resources".

Harpooner on prow of whaling boat   HNA
Norway caught 647 minke whales in 2003
Conservationists have claimed for years that Japan was buying up small nations by offering them aid if they would vote its way at the IWC. The paper confirms Japan believes it is succeeding in winning the whaling argument.

It says: "As a result of efforts of the Japanese government and industry, the balance of power within the IWC between the countries supporting sustainable use of whales and those opposing any type of whaling has become almost equal".

It proposes that Japan should say it cannot undertake to fund the conservation committee, and says Tokyo "will exercise caution" regarding the payment of the rest of its IWC contribution.

The paper also says Japan should consider joining other international organisations, like the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (Nammco), which includes Norway, Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands.

Political pressure

It is not certain that Nammco would be judged competent under international law to regulate whaling in place of the IWC.

The paper urges Japan also to consider setting up an entirely new international organisation "advocating the principle of sustainable use".

Blue whales   Noaa
Blue whales: Still very rare across the world
Japan has threatened for years to leave the IWC if it did not get its way: the politicians' proposals show it is taking the possibility more seriously than in the past.

Other issues likely to come up at the IWC meeting, which runs from 19 to 22 July in the Italian resort of Sorrento, include a review of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, established 10 years ago.

Conservation groups want the IWC to tackle the problem of bycatch (the accidental catch of whales, dolphins and porpoises, known collectively as cetaceans) in fishing nets.

Arctic peril

One estimate puts the annual global death toll from bycatch at about 300,000 cetaceans.

The UK-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says traditional whaling by communities of indigenous peoples, especially in Greenland, threatens the survival of some whale species.

It says: "The number of whales hunted, wasted and traded in the name of subsistence simply cannot be justified."

The pro-whaling bloc could win a symbolically important vote to end the whaling moratorium, but a simple majority would make no practical difference: a 75% vote is needed for that.

Harpooner image courtesy and copyright of High North Alliance: whale images from US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

'When do whales die?' ask experts
07 Jul 04  |  Science/Nature
Norway seeks tripled whale catch
28 May 04  |  Science/Nature
Whaling 'too cruel to continue'
09 Mar 04  |  Science/Nature
Whale commission future 'in jeopardy'
19 Jun 03  |  Science/Nature


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