The International Whaling Commission narrowly approved a resolution in support of resuming commercial whaling, but pro-whaling nations still lack the numbers needed to overturn a 20-year-old ban.
With a vote Sunday of 33-32, Japan and a collection of supporters in the Caribbean and Africa pushed through the symbolic resolution saying the moratorium on commercial whaling was meant to be temporary and is no longer needed.
Although another vote supported by 75 percent of the 70 IWC members would be required to overturn the ban, pro-whaling nations said they were energized by the resolution. They have argued that the IWC should return to its roots as a group that manages the world’s whale population, rather than trying to prevent the killing of whales altogether.
“We will not take revenge against anti-whaling nations,” said Joji Morishita, chief spokesman for the Japanese delegation. “This is the beginning of a rational process of returning the IWC to a management organization.”
Japan and other pro-whaling countries, which include Norway, Iceland and Russia, were to hold a meeting Monday to set a strategy for recasting the organization’s mission.
The United States, Australia and New Zealand voted against the measure.
Manage hunts, not ban them?
The pro-whaling countries had lost four previous and more significant votes at the meeting. But with each vote, conservationists have become increasingly worried that pro-whaling nations will eventually control the commission.
Delegates from small Caribbean and African countries said the resolution — the first of its kind since the ban — was needed to force the IWC to take up its original mandate of managing whale hunts — not banning them altogether. The backers have been pushing to lift the ban, saying it was a way to protect fish stocks from whales and give their small islands food security.
Environmental groups have accused developing nations of voting with Japan in return for money for fisheries projects — which Japan and those countries have repeatedly denied. Pro-whaling nations have spent years encouraging small and developing countries to join the IWC.
Vassili Papastavrou, a whale biologist for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said he believed nothing would change following the vote since Japan and Iceland already hunt whales under the auspices of scientific research — which critics call a sham — and Norway ignores the 1986 IWC ban altogether.
“Vote or no vote, 2,400 whales will be killed in the next twelve months,” he said.
Battle will continue
Australia’s minister for the environment, Ian Campbell, one of the IWC’s most vocal critics of whaling, said he welcomes a public battle for the future of the organization after the meeting ends on Tuesday.
“The anger expressed by the world when they see the first humpback hauled on board of a Japanese whaling ship will make my job a lot easier,” said Campbell, referring to Japan’s plan to kill 50 humpback whales in 2007 and 2008 as part of its scientific whaling program.
Both camps maintain a core group of supportive nations, which they cajole for dues payments and votes. Both Campbell and Morishita said they would encourage new countries to join the IWC between now and next year’s meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.