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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 June, 2005, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Japanese whaling 'science' rapped
By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent in Ulsan, South Korea

Whaling document is marked up in Ulsan (AP)
Science is supposed to be at the core of the IWC's decisions
The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has condemned Japan's plan to increase the scale of its catches in the name of science.

Tokyo's proposal would see Japanese research vessels take more than 1,000 whales each year in Antarctic waters.

Its delegation said Japan would continue with its scheme, called JARPA-2, as it can under IWC rules.

Conservation bodies said the huge expansion planned by Japan had ensured opposition from anti-whaling nations.

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling dates from 1946, and states:

The IWC meeting in South Korea is a clash of 'food' cultures
T. Joensen, Faroe Islands

"...any contracting government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorising that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the contracting government thinks fit..."

In other words, any country can decide to hunt however many whales it likes in the name of science, whatever other nations think, and whatever the reservations of scientists.

Data doubts

After the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling came into force in 1986, Japan embarked on the Japanese Whale Research Programme in Antarctica, or JARPA, under which it takes 440 minke whales from the Southern Ocean each year.

We will implement JARPA-2 according to the schedule, because the sample size is determined in order to get statistically significant results
Akira Nakamae, Japan's alternate commissioner
Under another programme, JARPN, Japanese vessels catch 100 minkes, 50 Bryde's, 100 sei and 10 sperm whales per year from the north-western Pacific Ocean.

Before this meeting began, Japan had circulated in scientific circles its intention to end JARPA, and initiate its successor JARPA-2 which would take 935 minkes, 50 fin whales and 50 humpbacks from the seas around Antarctica.

Sixty-three scientists working with the IWC on the issue issued a statement condemning JARPA-2.

Divided opinions in Ulsan

"It is scientifically invalid to review the JARPA-2 proposal before the IWC has had a chance to conduct a full review of the results of the original 18 years of investigation," they wrote.

"With the new proposal, Japan will increase its annual take... to levels approaching the annual commercial quotas for Antarctic minke whales that were in place prior to the moratorium.

"Consequently, we... feel unable to engage in a scientifically defensible process of review of the JARPA-2 proposal."

Push ahead

In the usually polite nexus of scientific debate, this is strong language.

It's time for Japan to respect an international forum which has said for the 41st time in 18 years that there's no justification for this research programme
Patrick Ramage, Ifaw
Into discussions here at the IWC meeting, the Australian delegation pitched a motion asking Japan to withdraw or switch to non-lethal methods of research - which Japan maintains is impossible if it is to get the data it needs.

The resolution passed by 30 votes to 27 - a narrow majority, and one which would probably have fallen the other way had all the developing countries which traditionally support Japan turned up.

Find out about the different endangered whale species.

"We're delighted that the Australian resolution passed," the British whaling commissioner Richard Cowan told BBC News.

"It showed that a majority of those in this committee consider that the Japanese proposals should not go ahead until the work of the original 18-year survey has been reviewed."

But the vote appeared to have no impact on Japanese intentions.

"We will implement JARPA-2 according to the schedule, because the sample size is determined in order to get statistically significant results," said Japan's alternate (or deputy) commissioner Akira Nakamae.

Move to reform

Speeches by other Japanese delegates spoke of an intention to reverse the vote next year, by bringing to the meeting more countries which would side with Japan.

Whale meat burger (AP)
Conservationists claim scientific whaling is a cover to get meat into Japanese restaurants
For conservation groups, the fact that neither the vote nor the scientists' criticisms will change anything is a huge frustration.

"It's time for Japan to respect an international forum which has said for the 41st time in 18 years that there's no justification for this research programme," Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) told BBC News.

"We are encouraged by the vote, but dismayed that more than 1,000 whales will die later this year on Japanese harpoons in a region that's supposed to be a sanctuary."

Some western delegations are now calling for a high-level political forum to reform the whaling convention and the commission, and block what many observers regard as unacceptable loopholes.

Japan plans to increase the scale of its catches


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