Whaling Commission Wants Control of Scientific Permits
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) declared on Thursday that countries would in future need its approval to hunt whales for scientific research, but critics said the move would have little practical effect.
The decision is intended to close a legal loophole that allows Japan to hunt some 300 whales a year, despite a 30-year-old global moratorium on commercial whaling.
But the IWC, which is holding its plenary meeting in the Slovenian seaside town of Portoroz, has no enforcement powers, meaning no new practical limits will be placed on Japan's whaling.
Japan says its scientific research program, involving examining carcasses to determine their age, is needed to better understand how whale numbers can be sustained. Its critics say that is a pretext for hunting the animals, whose meat is eventually sold for food.
Safety at sea was discussed during the meeting, and the IWC reiterated that international and domestic maritime law should be respected by all parties, and no activities should be undertaken that pose a risk to human life or the marine environment.
While some campaigners welcomed Thursday's IWC decision, which came after Japan and its allies succeeded on Tuesday in blocking a proposal for a South Atlantic whale sanctuary, others worried that it would have few practical consequences.
"The International Whaling Commission doesn't have any teeth," said Nicolas Entrup, a consultant for Swiss NGO Oceancare. "So it's all about goodwill. And I doubt that Japan is ready."
In future, scientific whaling permits will be issued by a standing IWC committee, on which the country applying will have only observer status.
A Japanese representative declined to comment, but New Zealand's IWC commissioner Amy Laurenson welcomed the decision, which she called "a small step forward ... we'll continue to work to see this outdated practice brought to an end."
Also at the meeting, Oceancare criticized the fact that actions against commercial whaling are absent from the IWC agenda. A petition directed at the European Union was presented to IWC delegates by OceanCare, Pro Wildlife and Animal Welfare Institute, along with their joint report “Frozen in Time: How Modern Norway Clings to Its Whaling Past.” The report claims to detail Norway’s undermining of the IWC ban on commercial whaling and exposes the serious growth of Norway’s overseas trade in whale products.