Brazilian President Seeks Support for Atlantic Whale Sanctuary

BRASILIA, Brazil, June 14, 2004 (ENS) - For the first time, a Latin American head of state has formally written to his peers on the importance of the non-lethal use of whale resources.

In an open letter to world leaders, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has asked for support to establish a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary and to promote the non-lethal use of whales "as a sustainable, environmentally correct and socially equitable way of appropriating the resources represented by cetacean species" in Brazilian waters.

President Lula issued the letter in advance of the 56th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, to be held in Sorrento, Italy between July 19 and 22.

Each year since 1998, Brazil has proposed a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary that would extend from the east coast of South America to the west coast of Africa. This is the year, President Lula wrote, that Brazil's proposal, presented jointly with Argentina, will be successful.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (Photo courtesy 
World Economic Forum <>)

"In the year that the Convention on Biological Diversity reaches 10 years of operation, the Brazilian Government expresses its confidence in a broad support from other nations to its proposal to create a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary as a concrete gesture of the international community towards the conservation of biodiversity," he wrote.

Brazil, which banned whaling in 1987, sees large numbers of whales representing 10 different species. They include humpback whales, minke whales, and Southern right whales, which breed along the Atlantic coast of South America.

With only about 7,000 whales remaining, the Southern right whale, Eubalaena australis, is the second most endangered whale species in the world, after the North Atlantic Right whale.

"We have to highlight our concern with the undeniable responsibility of humankind towards the conservation of biodiversity as we inherited it," wrote President Lula, "for its intrinsic, cultural, ethical and religious values and also for its role in the maintenance of ecological processes and environmental services which sustain human societies." 

Both Brazil and Argentina have thriving coastal tourism industries, with whale watching in a featured role, but it is not solely to develop its whale watching industry that Brazil seeks to establish the sanctuary, the President wrote. It is to safeguard the whales from whaling nations that are pressing the International Whaling Commission to lift the global moratorium on commercial whaling now in effect. 

"Ecotourism, scientific research and the cultural values of whales as flagship species for marine conservation are extremely important to countries in our region, thereby justifying our efforts to protect them against the intended future resumption of large-scale whaling in international waters," wrote President Lula. 

Humpback whale swims along the Brazilian coast. (Photo by Don 
Lawton courtesy NMML 

Whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland have historically voted against whale sanctuaries at meetings of the International Whaling Commission. Japan gathers its allies among the developing nations of the Caribbean and other poor areas to vote against sanctuaries, and in return Japan may favorably consider their requests for financial aid. 

"No one should be surprised that the sanctuary proposals have failed again," said Japanese representative Minoru Morimoto after the Commission's 2001 vote. "They have no scientific basis [and] were not needed for conservation." 

Japan sends whaling fleets to the North and South Pacific Ocean each year, taking hundreds of minke whales, plus dozens of sei, fin, and Bryde's whales under the scientific research provisions of the IWC treaty. 

While Japan maintains that it must kill whales to do research, President Lula wrote that the establishment of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary would "enhance international cooperation for scientific research." 

The Brazilian President acknowledged in his letter to other world leaders that the viewpoint of the whaling nations exists, but said that Brazil does not subscribe to it. "Though respectful of other management options undertaken in other regions of the planet," he wrote, "the generation of income and jobs, besides other social benefits that our peoples derive from the presence of living whales, demand our utmost effort in ensuring their future existence." 

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