Nations square off at whale conference


The stage was set Monday for heated debate over Japan's plans to relaunch a controversial Antartic whale hunt, as nations gathered for an international whaling conference in Slovenia.

The issue tops a list of contentious agenda items for the four-day meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), where representatives of 88 member states will seek to balance interests of national sovereignty, aboriginal rights and species conservation.

The gathering in the Adriatic resort of Portoroz is the IWC's first since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in March ordered a stop to Japan's Antarctic hunt.

The ICJ found Tokyo had abused an exception to the IWC's commercial whaling moratorium that allows hunts for scientific research. It was, at the time, the only country to use the provision.

"The whaling commission is long overdue to adopt reforms that will protect whales from so-called scientific hunts, which are in reality, a cover for the harvesting of whale meat," said Aimee Leslie, head of green group WWF's delegation at the meeting.

Japan cancelled its 2014/15 season, but a fisheries official told AFP his country would "explain its plan to resume research whaling in the next season (2015-16)" at the IWC meeting.

The plans are vigorously opposed by other member states, led by New Zealand which has filed a draft resolution for steps to better regulate scientific whaling in future.

Another issue likely to cause controversy is a bid by Denmark for a subsistence whaling quota, the other type of exception to the moratorium, for its former colony Greenland to be enlarged.

Some, like conservation group Greenpeace, fear the aboriginal provision is being abused, with some of the meat finding its way onto tourists' plates.

At the last IWC meeting, in 2012, the quota sought for Greenland was rejected after a bust-up between Denmark and fellow EU members, but whaling went ahead regardless.

Other topics up for debate are a proposal for a South Atlantic whale sanctuary, and Japanese plans for small-scale commercial whaling in its own coastal area.

Questions will likely be asked of Norway and Iceland, whose governments issue commercial permits under objections they had registered to the moratorium, and whose whalers together catch hundreds of cetaceans each year.

"Countries like Japan, Iceland and Norway must cease undermining, and in Japan's case violating, the whaling moratorium, by killing whales for commercial gain," Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International said from Portoroz.

"We're looking to the IWC and all whale-friendly nations to hold a firm line."


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