Whaling ban faces crossroads at Alaska meeting

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - Facing the most serious challenge to a 21-year-old ban on commercial whaling, anti-whaling nations look to reclaim a voting majority at a meeting next week to slow Japan’s push to end the moratorium.

A Minke whale carcass is seen on a boat in the western fjords October 31, 2006. Facing the most serious challenge to a 21-year-old ban on commercial whaling, anti-whaling nations look to reclaim a voting majority at a meeting next week to slow Japan's push to end the moratorium. REUTERS/IFAW/Handout

The International Whaling Commission holds its annual conference in Anchorage starting on Monday, one year after pro-whaling countries including Japan secured a one-vote majority and said a global ban on commercial whaling was no longer necessary.

Whaling nations are still short of the three-quarters majority of the 75-member commission needed to overturn the ban that went into effect in 1986.

“Anchorage is turning into a critical crossroads for whale conservation in the 21st century,” said Patrick Ramage, head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s global whale campaign.

The one-vote majority at last year’s IWC meeting in the Caribbean island state of St. Kitts and Nevis was seen as a moral victory for pro-whaling nations and a sign of their progress in chipping away at the moratorium.

Anti-whaling forces led by the United States and Britain should get support from members added after last year’s meeting. New members like Greece, Slovenia, Cyprus and Croatia are expected to vote with conservation-minded European nations.

“The simple majority now lies with those that don’t support whaling at all,” said Glenn Inwood, a spokesman for the Japanese delegation at the IWC, adding that both sides lack the votes to pass binding resolutions.

Japan and its allies seek to return the IWC to its 1946 roots as a group that regulates whaling. The opposition says the organization’s policies over the last 20 years are responsible for saving the Earth’s largest creatures from extinction.

“We do need to have a good thorough discussion on what the future of the IWC will be,” said William Hogarth, the U.S. commissioner to the IWC. “It’s only one issue -- do you whale or don’t you whale?”


Norway and Iceland ignore the moratorium and conduct commercial whaling. Norway plans to catch more than 1,000 minke whales in the North Atlantic in 2007, while Iceland resumed commercial whaling last year after several years of catching whales for “scientific purposes.”

Japan is allowed to take more than 1,000 whales for scientific research, but critics say most of the meat ends up at supermarkets and restaurants.

This year’s four-day meeting will take place near the icy coasts where Alaska Natives use whale meat as a staple in their diet and an anchor for their culture.

Inupiat and Yupik Eskimos from Alaska’s northern and western coasts are counting on the IWC to renew their five-year aboriginal whaling quota. This international permit allows them to hunt whales in the tradition of their ancestors and share meat among fellow villagers.

“We would like to see, as much as possible, the aboriginal hunt static,” said Hogarth, noting that current whale stocks are sustainable for hunting by indigenous groups.

Japan is expected to propose that some of its coastal communities be allowed to hunt whales, arguing that the logic used in allowing quotas for indigenous people should apply to traditional Japanese whaling communities. Critics say this is a back-door method to resume commercial whaling.

Also up for renewal at the Anchorage meeting are aboriginal quotas for Natives in the Russian Far East and in Greenland and other small indigenous communities.

Additional reporting by Mary Milliken in Los Angeles and Daisuke Wakabayashi in Seattle