Anti-whaling nations head for showdown with Japan
20 April 2005, 4.00pm
New Zealand and other anti-whaling nations may not have the numbers to stop Japan and the pro-whaling bloc moving towards commercial hunting. The International Whaling Commission, which meets in South Korea today to discuss a 19-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling, is set to be a showdown between pro-whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland, and anti-catch countries led by New Zealand, Australia and Britain, which want rights curbed and some areas of the world's oceans declared off-limits. New Zealand's Whaling Commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer said the numbers did not favour the New Zealand point of view. Of the nine new nations that joined the Commission since last year, the majority were pro-whaling. It was estimated that just over half of the 62 member nations appearing to support whaling. While the pro-whaling bloc was probably not yet strong enough to overturn the commercial whaling ban, because that takes 75 per cent, it would be difficult to curb so-called "scientific whaling", Sir Geoffrey said. Pro-catch nations say the moratorium is no longer necessary because of recovering whale herds, arguing sustainable hunts should be resumed under a strict system of quotas. Meanwhile, under article 8 of the convention, which allows whales to be killed for "scientific" purposes, Japan and other countries can continue to give themselves permits to take any number of whales of whatever species from wherever. "It will be difficult to overturn their plans for scientific whaling unless they are prepared to alter them as the result of expressions of opposition and outrage that follow on the announcement of those plans," Sir Geoffrey said. "In essence, this argument will in the end be resolved by the public opinion of the world."
Today Conservation Minister Chris Carter released a statement at the IWC condemning Japan's plans to expand its scientific whaling programme as "utterly devoid of any scientific credibility". "How can any nation argue butchery on this scale is necessary every year in the name of science, particularly when most of the rest of the world is now conducting far more credible research on whales without killing any at all," Mr Carter said. He said Japan was exploiting a IWC loop hole on the regulation of whaling. "This makes a mockery of the IWC, and underscores just how desperately the Convention needs to be reformed and updated." Marine biologist Scott Baker of the University of Auckland, who represented New Zealand on the scientific committee of the commission last week, said Japan had applied to expanded its scientific programme. However, the scientific committee had declined to consider the proposal on the grounds it was not based on legitimate scientific principles and referred back the matter to the main commission, he said. "This is the same old argument we've been going over for 10 years now and it's a complete waste of time even debating it," Dr Baker told NZPA. "It's just so politicised and it's just a distraction from the real scientific proposals on the table." Tourism operators who have built their businesses on the backs of the deep sea mammals were waiting anxiously to hear the outcome of the vote. Whale Watch Kaikoura spokesman Thomas Kahu said anything that put pressure on whale populations would have a lasting impact. "You don't get a second chance here," he told NZPA. "They're a shared resource, so when whales are killed anywhere, in the Southern Oceans for instance, that will impact on the stock that show up on our coast."
The 18-year-old company had been involved in previous years in making submissions to the IWC on the commercial benefits of conserving whale populations and he said he hoped the message had found its target. "I think that New Zealand and Australia have made a pretty good case and we've just got to keep our fingers crossed." Nearly 1200 people have signed a petition in Kaikoura opposing the Japanese Government's plans to expand the slaughter of whales. The petition was launched by Green Party Kaikoura electorate candidate Steffan Browning in Kaikoura due to that town's direct link with whales through its whale-watching industry. "Kaikoura is the community in New Zealand most directly impacted by the Japanese plans and local residents are clearly opposed to them," he said. "The economic benefit of whale-watching is considerable to Kaikoura and the community is very keen to safeguard them. " Mr Browning said the effect of getting a strong response to Japan's whaling plans out of a town like Kaikoura was critical. "I think the local focus from a town like Kaikoura, which relies on the whales, is important," he said. "To get a heavy response from a town directly affected almost has more impact that getting hundreds of thousands of signatures from around the country. " Mr Browning said he intended to take the petition around Marlborough and would be at the car boot sale at the Blenheim Railway Station on Saturday morning. There was a possibility the petition would be taken further and would continue for another month. "This is an ongoing issue -- we'll keep on collecting signatures," he said. Meanwhile, Green co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons has applauded the petition which she described as a "wonderful community initiative" that would send a strong message to the Japanese Government that its whaling plans would hurt the New Zealand whale-watching industry. Japan's plans were a threat to the survival of beautiful, mammal species, she said. Whales were once a common sight off the New Zealand coast, however sightings had become more rare, mostly due to commercial whaling undertaken by a handful of countries. - NZPA