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The BBC's Dominic Hughes
"Allegations that Japan has been buying support"
 real 28k

Dr Ray Gambell, IWC secretary
"The purpose of the sanctuary has probably changed in people's minds"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Whale sanctuary rejected
Sanctuary Map
The proposal to establish a South Pacific whale sanctuary has been rejected at the International Whaling Commission's 52nd annual meeting in Adelaide, Australia.

The measure, which would have created protected waters covering 12m sq kilometres, failed to gain the backing of 75% of delegates to be adopted as IWC policy.

The decision is seen as an important victory for pro-whalers such as Japan and its allies, which had campaigned against the idea of a third whale sanctuary claiming there was "no scientific justification" for such a move.

The sanctuary's backers, Australia, New Zealand and other anti-whaling nations and lobby groups, said they would continue the debate on the issue and would likely resubmit the proposal to the IWC talks in London next year.

'Strong base'

Japan's Far Seas Fisheries Division deputy director Joji Morishita welcomed the vote.

"We are very happy, but it needs to be made clear that we don't oppose a sanctuary per se," he said.

"What we are saying is that it is not scientific to include all whales - some whales, such as minke, are abundant."

Australian environment minister Robert Hill said the sanctuary proposal had established a very strong base of support that would carry it forward to the next meeting in London.

"We are not going to go away," he said. "The South Pacific wants this sanctuary and we will ensure the South Pacific gets it."

Breeding and feeding

Of the 35 nations in attendance at the conference in Adelaide, 18 voted in favour, 11 against and four abstained.

Two nations - Italy and the Solomon Islands - were absent from the room for the crucial vote, while six IWC members had failed to pay their annual fees and had not turned up to the annual meeting.

Delegates AFP
Delegates have a run a gauntlet of chants and placards
The new sanctuary, had it been approved, would have covered an area stretching from the equator to the southern ocean and from Australia's east coast to between Pitcairn and Easter Islands.

It would have linked with the existing Indian Ocean sanctuary and its southern reaches would have joined the Southern Ocean sanctuary - effectively turning almost all Southern Hemisphere oceans into safe breeding and feeding grounds for whales.

Caribbean votes

Japan was once again forced to respond to allegations that it had "bought" the support of six Caribbean nations which voted down the sanctuary by offering hefty financial aid packages.

"I know this isn't true," Joji Morishita said.

Robert Hill was particularly critical of the Caribbean actions at the meeting

"The thing I find most difficult to understand is how a block vote from the Caribbean can defeat the aspirations of a group of island states in the Pacific," he said.

"There seems to be something fundamentally wrong with this."

Commercial whaling

Japan's long-term aim is the resumption of commercial whaling based on its belief that some species, such as Minke whales, have recovered to the extent that they could sustain some hunting.

But scientists are divided over just how many whales there are in the world's oceans, admitting it is almost impossible to get an accurate picture of whale populations.

The moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced in 1986, to allow the great whales to start to recover from years of mass killing at the hands of the whaling fleets.

This year, Japan plans to catch 540 minkes, the smallest of the great whales at about 10 metres, as part of its ongoing "scientific research" into whaling. It also wants to kill 50 Bryde's and 10 sperm whales, both larger species. Norway's fleet is targeting 655 North Atlantic minkes.

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Whaling ban
Quiz Dr Ray Gambell in Adelaide
See also:

03 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Minke whale numbers 'declining'
30 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Battle royal erupts on whaling
11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban set to end
12 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban 'should stay'
22 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whales change their tune
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