Nations to decide on South Atlantic whale sanctuary

2014-09-16 17:24

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Portoroz - International Whaling Commission (IWC) members were on Tuesday debating a fresh attempt to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, an idea thwarted by pro-hunting nations for years.

The proposal, tabled by Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay, requires 75% of votes to pass at the commission's 65th session taking place in the Adriatic resort of Portoroz.

The agenda is laden with contentious issues seeking to balance national whaling traditions with conservation.

The sanctuary bid had failed at previous meetings of the commission, including the last one in Panama in 2012, where it mustered 64%.

The plan is backed by European countries and the United States, but Japan rejects the idea "from its basic position of seeking to resume sustainable commercial whaling", a fisheries agency official told AFP ahead of the meeting.

Chemical and sound pollution

Two whale sanctuaries already exist, one in the Indian Ocean was created in 1979 and a second in 1994 in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica, where Japan has continued annual hunts in the name of scientific research.

This IWC meeting is the first since the UN's highest court ruled in March that Japan had abused a scientific exemption to a 1986 whaling moratorium.

Backers of the sanctuary believe it would protect the animals, a precious resource for southern nations that depend on whale-watching tourist dollars, even if the moratorium were to be lifted or relaxed in future.

Even though there are no whale hunts in the South Atlantic, the animals get caught in fishing nets, are hit in boat strikes and face the effects of chemical and sound pollution - risks the sanctuary would also seek to reduce.

But it seemed unlikely the proposal would go through.

"Conservation countries don't hold a three-quarters majority," at the 88-member commission, the Humane Society International's Kitty Block told AFP ahead of the meeting. "No side does."

Strong opposition

On the meeting's first day, on Monday, the IWC gave aboriginal Greenlanders the go-ahead to kill hundreds of whales, while and Iceland came under fire for contravening a ban on commercial hunting.

Greenland's hunts are allowed under a special aboriginal subsistence dispensation, but conservationists fear much of the meat was actually being sold.

Iceland and Norway, on the other hand, issue commercial permits under objections or reservations registered against the IWC's whaling ban, and together catch hundreds of whales per year.

The European Union (EU) and United States, having voted in favour of Greenland's subsistence quota, led a call on Iceland to halt its commercial whaling programme, to which they expressed "strong opposition", with backing from Australia, Brazil, Israel, Mexico and New Zealand.

Among the remaining contentious agenda items, the four-day gathering was debating Japan's controversial plans to resume Antarctic whaling, as well as a separate bid by Tokyo to be allowed small-scale whaling of its own coast.

Read more on:    iwc  |  animals  |  conservation

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