EU says photos show reality of whaling

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU executive repeated a call on Friday for EU members to adopt a unified stance on whaling, saying pictures released by Australia of whales being killed in the Southern Ocean illustrated the reality of Japanese hunting.

A minke whale and her calf being towed up the rear ramp of the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru No.2 in the Southern Ocean is seen in this handout photograph released February 7, 2008. Australia released on Thursday pictures of whales killed by a Japanese fleet in the Southern Ocean ahead of a possible legal challenge to stop the annual slaughter, fueling public anger over the practice. A photo of an adult minke whale and her calf being towed up the rear ramp of a Japanese factory processing ship in Antarctic waters prompted headlines including "They call it science". REUTERS/Australian Customs/Handout. EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

In a statement, the European Commission reiterated a plea for Japan to halt a hunt for almost 1,000 minke and fin whales in the Antarctic and for International Whaling Commission (IWC) members to adhere to a 1986 whaling moratorium.

Australia on Thursday released pictures of whales being killed by Japan, fuelling public anger at a hunt Japan says is for scientific purposes.

The photos showed an adult minke whale and her calf being towed up the rear ramp of a Japanese factory processing ship in Antarctic waters. One image showed what appeared to be the young whale’s intestine spilling from an explosive harpoon wound.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the images “bring home the reality of whale hunting.”

“This shows that more than ever the EU needs to be united in opposing whaling,” he said in a statement. “I call on Member States to reach a common position to reinforce the efforts to protect whales.”

EU Agriculture Commissioner Joe Borg said whales were protected by the IWC and EU law. “Scientific research must not be used as a cover for continued whaling,” he said.

The European Commission has been working to coordinate European efforts to protect whales, but as the European Union is not yet a party to the IWC, it cannot negotiate on behalf of member states.

The Commission has been seeking a common stance ahead of the next IWC meeting in June.

This would be based on support for the current moratorium on commercial whaling, the setting up of whale sanctuaries and encouraging non-lethal methods for collecting scientific data.

Whaling is not allowed in EU waters, but EU neighbors Norway and Iceland are the only nations to allow “commercial” whale hunts, despite the IWC moratorium.

Norway’s Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Ministry said on Friday it had set a commercial whaling quota of 1,052 minke whales in 2008, unchanged from last year, drawing criticism from environmental groups.

Last year Norway harpooned 597 minke whales, or 57 percent of its quota, and its kills have remained below quota ceilings since 2001, official figures show.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, editing by Mary Gabriel