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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2007, 06:58 GMT 07:58 UK
Whale meeting condemns Japan hunt
By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Anchorage, Alaska

Sea Shepherd ship the Robert Hunter (L) approaching Japanese whaling ship the Nisshin Maru  (Feb 2007)
Sea Shepherd protesters disrupted Japan's Antarctic hunt this year
The International Whaling Commission's annual meeting has passed a resolution condemning Japan's scientific hunting programme in the Antarctic.

Japan catches nearly 1,000 whales there each year in the name of research.

After an acrimonious debate, a large number of countries refused to vote, saying the resolution was illegitimate.

There was, however, consensus support for a motion censuring environmental groups which try to hinder Japan's Antarctic programme.

Both Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society have tried to block the programme in recent years, culminating in a damaging collision between Japanese and Sea Shepherd vessels in the recent Antarctic season for which each party blames the other.

It was just about the only sign of common ground in a day marked by the entrenched positions and political posturing which has bedevilled this organisation for years.

'Stain on the commission'

Any International Whaling Commission (IWC) member is entitled to hunt whales for scientific research, but anti-whaling countries view the size and scope of Japan's programmes in the Antarctic and north Pacific as going far beyond what was envisaged when the IWC's constitution, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, was drawn up in 1946.

Resolutions calling for a halt have materialised regularly.

Joji Morishita of Japan addresses IWC meeting in Anchorage
Japan is not obliged to comply with the IWC vote
"Every scientific catch is a stain on the record of this commission," said Monaco's whaling commissioner Frederic Briand.

"The best thing Japan could do is to reduce the size of its scientific whaling programmes around the world."

The IWC's scientific committee recently reviewed Japan's Antarctic programme, and New Zealand's conservation minister Chris Carter was not too impressed with their conclusions.

Japanese hunters "killed 7,000 whales over 18 years, and couldn't even decide how many whales there are," he fumed.

This was in marked contrast to the St Kitts commissioner Cedric Liburd, who said: "This research provided significant data enabling us to understand the structure and abundance of whale populations.

Every scientific catch is a stain on the record of this commission
Frederic Briand
Monaco's whaling commissioner

"I find [this resolution] extremely disturbing, vexatious and in some ways irrelevant," he said.

"It is frivolous, devoid of action and meaningless."

Virtually all of the pro-whaling bloc abstained from the vote, leading to a majority of 40 to 2.

It makes no material difference, as Japan is not obliged to comply.

Nevertheless, it is viewed by environmental groups as an important weapon in the battle for hearts and minds.

All at sea

Environmental organisations Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd came under fire themselves in a resolution co-ordinated by Japan and New Zealand.

It was the only concrete sign so far of the common ground which both sides said they were seeking before the meeting convened.

People on both sides of the debate talk about their views

The resolution, which says that member governments "do not condone, and in fact condemn, any actions that are a risk to human life and property in relation to the activities of vessels at sea," passed by consensus.

"We maintain that our protests are peaceful and non-violent," commented Shane Rattenbury of Greenpeace International.

"Greenpeace has 35 years of history of being non-violent; but I'm sure the Japanese government will attempt to wave it in our face and say 'you shouldn't be undertaking these protests'."

Sea Shepherd's record is rather different, having been implicated in attacks on whaling vessels spanning more than two decades.

It is notable that while Greenpeace is allowed into the meeting here, Sea Shepherd is not.

Parts of the resolution can also be interpreted as a rebuke to Japan, particularly an injunction to "have regard to protecting... the fragile Antarctic environment."

The meeting looked like running late into its penultimate evening, with several major issues unresolved.

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