FEATURE - South
Pacific whale sanctuary bid looks beached
AUSTRALIA: July 18, 2001
SYDNEY - Deep in the South Pacific, migrating whales serenade
their mates as they swim to warmer tropical waters to breed,
enchanting thousands of whale watchers along the coastal cliff
tops of Australia and New Zealand.
But the whale songs won't count for much when the International
Whaling Commission (IWC) meets in London next week,
A move by Australia and New Zealand to establish a South Pacific
whale sanctuary is again expected to fail, having already been
blocked by Japan with the support of six
Caribbean island states at last year's IWC meeting in Australia.
"The chances for the sanctuary look very bleak...almost
impossible," said Cassandra Phillips, policy adviser for the
World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which will lobby the
The same fate probably awaits a proposal by Brazil to create a
southern Atlantic whale
Australian Environment Minister Robert Hill is not optimistic
given that IWC rules require a
three-quarters majority for the sanctuary proposals to pass.
At last year's Adelaide IWC meeting, when the South Pacific
sanctuary was first proposed, it was defeated with only 18 nations
in favour, 11 against and four abstaining.
"Under the rules of the IWC it is so easily blocked, and we
have no reason for confidence there has been any substantial
movement from those who voted against our position - so it is very
difficult," Hill told Reuters in an interview.
WHALERS GAINING STRENGTH
The IWC has approved two whale sanctuaries to protect feeding
grounds in the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean, which lashes
But Japan ignores the sanctuaries and catches 1,000 whales a year
under a programme it calls "scientific whaling". But
critics say much of the whale meat ends up on restaurant tables or
Japan has warned that the continued opposition to commercial
whaling by Australia and New Zealand threatens the very existence
of the IWC, which was established to regulate whaling.
"Australia and New Zealand should leave their frivolous whale
sanctuary proposal at home," Japan said in a recent statement.
Environmentalists fear Japan is getting close to eventually having
enough support to overturn a 1986 IWC whaling moratorium.
"We are fearful Japan is looking at loading the IWC with tame
countries and then could get a majority to change the rules. They
are getting fairly close," said David Butcher,
chief executive of WWF, Australia.
Butcher said Iceland, Russia and Korea may be waiting in the wings
to resume commercial whaling if Japan was able to end the
WWF and Greenpeace charge Japan with using its large aid budget to
coax small countries to vote its way.
"We are very pessimistic on the voting, it looks as though
the whalers may be able to count on almost half of the 38 or 40
votes this year, which will make it difficult to get
resolutions criticising the whalers adopted," said Phillips.
WWF said new IWC members Panama and Morocco were expected to vote
with Japan, along with Peru if it can pay back dues and become
eligible to vote.
While the island states of the Caribbean helped block the new
South Pacific whale sanctuary last year, the islands of the
Pacific are not even members of the IWC.
Australia has talked with its island neighbours about joining the
IWC, but the financial commitment necessary is a burden these
economically struggling nations can ill afford.
BOOM IN WHALE WATCHING
But as the economic benefits of whale watching grow, South Pacific
island states are
beginning to view the whales as a possible economic lifeline worth
Global whale watching is worth $1.0 billion, attracting nine
million people a year in 87 countries and territories, according
to an International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) report.
The IFAW said whale watching had grown 40 percent since 1994,
citing Africa, Central America and Asia as the three biggest
growth areas. Whale watching in Japan has boomed, growing 37.6
percent between 1991 and 1998, and whale hunting nation Norway has
seen a 18.8 percent growth in whale watching since 1994.
"We have found that whale watching is making a dramatic
economic contribution to tourism and local coastal communities
worldwide," said IFAW Asia Pacific Director
The South Pacific Forum, which represents 16 island states, last
year endorsed a proposed whale sanctuary, saying it would not only
protect the breeding grounds of
nine species but also spawn whale watching industries in the
Whale watching in Tonga is estimated to contribute $1.0 million a
year to the island's economy.
"Whales and marine life have become a focal point for tourism
in Tonga today. The more whales we have in our region the better
the future for our children," said Tongan lawmaker Samiu
Story by Michael Perry
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE