U.S. Scolds Japan, Iceland for Whale Hunting

By J.R. Pegg

WASHINGTON, DC, June 24, 2004 (ENS) - The United States officially condemned Iceland and Japan on Tuesday for their ongoing whale hunts. Both nations contend the hunts are necessary for scientific research, but U.S. officials say that excuse is baseless and the hunts are undermining international whale conservation efforts.

"The lethal research whaling conducted by both Iceland and Japan is unnecessary for the management of whales, and we urge them to use non-lethal research methods," said U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.

Iceland, Japan and Norway are the only three nations engaged in whaling.

Both Iceland and Japan hunt whales under an exemption to the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows whaling for scientific research.

Critics see the whale hunts by Japan and Iceland as poorly disguised commercial whaling. They note both governments fund their whaling programs and the meat is sold in supermarkets and restaurants in both countries.

Japan and Iceland say that under the terms of the IWC scientific whaling provision, all the meat of the animals killed for research must be utilized, not discarded.

Norway objected to the IWC moratorium and is not held to its terms.

According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), the resumption of whaling by Iceland last year, along with the whale hunts by Japan and Norway, has brought whaling to an all-time high since the moratorium was adopted in 1986.

"Far from improving, things are getting worse for the whales," said Vassili Papastavrou of IFAW. "Most people think we saved the whale in 1986 when a worldwide moratorium on whaling came into force. Tragically, three countries have found ways around the ban and are killing around 1,400 whales a year between them."

                               Japanese fishers kill a minke whale in the Southern Ocean. In March a global coalition of 140 nongovernmental organizations in 55 countries called for a permanent halt to whaling, which many believe is cruel and unnecessary. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)


The U.S. Commerce Department listed Iceland and Japan under the Pelly Amendment, a 1967 measure developed to impose economic and political pressure on governments and fishing fleets that do not respect international conservation efforts.

When Iceland announced its return to whaling in August 2003 after a 14 year hiatus, 23 nations, including the United States, officially protested the decision.

Iceland killed 36 minke whales last year and announced in June that it plans to kill 25 whales this year.

It has already killed five minke whales this year.

Iceland says the killings are necessary for its study of local marine ecosystems, a claim disputed by many scientists and many member governments of the IWC.

"Iceland began this hunt despite the appeals by a majority of IWC member countries and scientists to do otherwise," Evans said.

The Pelly Amendment allows the U.S. government to subject listed countries to trade sanctions, but the Bush administration stopped short of exerting economic pressures on either nation.

"We will use all diplomatic channels to request both countries to end their respective lethal research whaling activities," Evans said.

U.S. delegations attending bilateral meetings with Iceland regarding whaling issues will raise U.S. concerns and seek ways to halt these actions, according to the Commerce Department.

In addition, the U.S. Departments of Commerce and State will keep these situations under close review and will continue to work through bilateral relationships to urge Iceland to cease the whale hunts.

Japan was most recently certified under the Pelly Amendment in 2000 for the expansion of its lethal research whaling program in the North Pacific.

That Pelly certification remains active, but Evans said the United States has remained concerned about changes in the scale and nature of Japan's North Pacific whaling activities.

Japan added Bryde's and sperm whales to its research harvest in 2000, and sei whales in 2002.

Greenpeace has sent its ship Esperanza to Iceland to protest the whale hunt. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

Sei, Bryde's, minke, and sperm whales are protected under the U.S. Marine Mammal Protection Act - sei and sperm whales are on the U.S. endangered species list.

Japan, under the banner of scientific research, is hunting 150 minkes, 50 Bryde's, 50 sei, and 10 sperm whales in the North Pacific this year.

Japan has repeatedly stated its desire to resume commercial whaling and Iceland has indicated it intends to resume the practice in 2006.

But there are signs that domestic support for the move in Iceland may be dwindling.

IFAW reports that demand for whale meat in Iceland appears to be weak. Of the 35 tons of meat landed last year 23 tons are still unsold.

And there is additional economic pressure, as whale watching attracts some 72,000 tourists to Iceland each year and is worth more than $14 million to the nation's economy.

On Tuesday, Greenpeace sailed one of its ships into the Icelandic port of Isafjordur to protest the whale hunt and highlight how the decision is undermining the nation's economic potential for ecotourism.

"The Icelandic Government has a golden opportunity to chose living whales and ecotourism over whaling," said Greenpeace International ocean campaigner Frode Pleym. "The [government] should make the obvious wise decision and cancel the entire program."

Source: Environment News Service (ENS)