Saving the Whales, Again

The International Whaling Commission has decided to give whale
conservation another chance. The commission tried to curtail the
killing of these endangered creatures with a moratorium on commercial
whaling in 1986, but it had too many loopholes and some countries
just ignored it. Now it has decided to devise and oversee specific
conservation strategies, in concert with international environmental
organizations.

Of course, the same obstacles remain mainly the intransigence of
the big whaling nations that have so far flouted the moratorium.
Unless they can be persuaded to cooperate, the new measures, whatever
they turn out to be, won't mean much either.

The 1986 moratorium will stay in place, loopholes and all. The two
main loopholes allow hunting for aboriginal communities and
scientific research. Japan sailed right through the research
loophole, killing as many as 700 whales every year. Much of the whale
meat ended up on somebody's dinner plate, and some of it ended up as
dog food.

The new whaling commission initiative seeks to take a different
approach to conservation: one that focuses on cooperative measures
safer fishing methods, for instances, or so-called no-take zones to
protect whales and other ocean life, rather than a blanket policy
forbidding whaling.

These ideas thrilled the environmentalists who were on hand for the
commission's annual meeting last week, but the key question is
whether they will appeal to the Japanese and other whale-hungry
nations. So far, the answer is a resounding no. Indeed, the Japanese
arrived at the I.W.C. meeting hoping to end the moratorium
altogether. It now threatens to boycott meetings of the committee
charged with developing the new strategies, withhold dues and perhaps
leave the whaling commission altogether. Japan is the commission's
biggest financial contributor. As the largest whaling nation, it also
needs to be at the table if the commission is to mean anything.

Japan is not alone in its complaints. Norway simply ignores the
moratorium. Iceland and some Caribbean countries are known to hunt as
well. Other countries want change. Australia and New Zealand, for
example, lobbied for large whale sanctuaries in the South Atlantic
and Pacific Oceans, similar to those in the Antarctic and Indian
Oceans. Japan and its allies said no.

If this new commitment to save endangered whale populations is to be
effective, the United States, Britain, Germany and other influential
members all of which supported the new initiative must use their
influence to bring the Japanese and other environmentally destructive
dissidents into line.

Source: New York Times 28 June 2003