June 24, 2009 / 7:00 PM / 10 years ago

Nations fail to reach compromise at whaling talks

FUNCHAL, Portugal (Reuters) - The International Whaling Commission failed to find a compromise between whaling and anti-whaling nations on Wednesday in a serious blow to its authority as a regulator.

Instead of coming up with a deal, IWC delegates agreed to extend the deadline for a compromise for a year. The commission is seeking to marry the views of anti-whaling nations such as Australia and pro-whaling countries Japan, Norway and Iceland.

“The IWC is at a crossroads beset by fundamental disagreements as to its nature and purpose,” the international body said, referring to the failure of the panel to reach agreement.

A moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed in 1986 at the IWC, but Japan continues to skirt it for scientific research, while Iceland and Norway simply ignore it and harpoon whales for commercial use. That situation has left the IWC logjammed.

Japan said failure to reach agreement could eventually lead to a collapse of the IWC.

“Essentially what you are looking at is that if is not resolved you are looking at the total and utter collapse of the IWC,” a spokesman for the Japanese delegation told Reuters.

He said Australia, a key anti-whaling nation, had “brought nothing to the table and all it has done is dig its heels in on scientific whaling.”

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett said talks on the future of the IWC could not go on forever and he did not rule out legal action against pro-whaling nations.

“What we’ve always said is that the option for legal action remains, we will give consideration to the progress that’s been made at this IWC meeting and we will take a view about that option in due course,” he told journalists.

Last week Garrett said Australia would oppose a deal which would allow Japan to resume coastal whaling in return for scaling back its annual whale hunt near Antartica, saying it was not the right means to advance whale conservation.

An international convention was signed in 1946 on regulating whaling and the IWC was created as part of that convention. Most commercial whaling ended during the 1960s and 1970s but some countries insist on their continued right to carry out the practice in a limited way.

Editing by Axel Bugge and Philippa Fletcher

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