Published on Monday, June 16, 2003 by Agence France Presse
Critics Lead 'Save the Whale' Call at World Whaling Meet
Anti-whaling countries won an early battle against whaling nations over a flagship proposal to beef up the protection of whales and reinforce an international ban on the controversial practice.
An attempt led by Japan to throw the proposal -- the so-called 'Berlin Initiative' -- off the agenda was defeated amid heated debate on the first day of the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting.
But the debate over whether to retain the item in the first place showed the strength of feeling here, with Japan and allies such as Iceland claiming the proposal is a cover-up for a bid to end centuries of tradition for good.
At stake is both the credibility of a 1986 moratorium on whaling as well as of the IWC itself.
Norway is the only IWC member openly pursuing commercial whaling thanks to its get-out clause in the moratorium, and Japan allows hundreds of whales to be killed every year for what it says is scientific research and what critics claim is a sham for profit-taking hunts.
Iceland now wants to follow Japan's lead, and has said it hopes to resume commercial whaling in the future too.
The Berlin Initiative is a bid by anti-whaling countries to forestall any return to commercial whaling.
It envisages the creation by the IWC of a dedicated conservation committee to protect the whale population from over-fishing, pollution, climate change and shipping.
"Whales are intelligent and sensible animals," Germany's consumer minister Renate Kuenast told the meeting. "I would like to see the IWC responsible for the protection of all whales."
Kuenast, who is in the environmentalist Greens party, told reporters at a news conference that "the best way to use (whales) is not with a harpoon, but a camera."
The proposal needs a simple majority of the IWC's 48 vote-bearing members to pass. Kuenast said the situation was "extremely tight," and reckoned on a majority of just one or two votes.
"We're cautiously optimistic," said an official of the World Wide Fund for Nature campaign group.
Japan and Iceland are spearheading opposition to the proposal.
They want the moratorium lifted and replaced by a complex system of quotas and monitoring that would vary depending on whale stocks, climate conditions and seasons.
However, more than a decade of talks to adopt the scheme has failed to produce an agreement, and Japan and Iceland have threatened to resume the commercial hunt on their own terms if they remain bogged down.
They have filed a series of proposals here allowing them greater scope for whaling, either by coastal communities traditionally dependent on hunting or for scientific research.
They say that with more than a million minke and two million sperm whales in the oceans, stocks would be able to sustain limited hunting.
"This is not some sort of grand-scale whaling that would drive down stocks ... we are talking about sustainable use of this living resource," Iceland's whaling commissioner Stefan Asmundsson said.
Australia and New Zealand are meanwhile asking the IWC to set up a whale sanctuary in the south Pacific, and Argentina and Brazil have called for one in the south Atlantic.
The proposals, which have been repeatedly defeated in past years, are also thought unlikely this time to reach the required three-quarters majority.
Outside the conference venue, Greenpeace campaigners organized a "Kids for Whales" rally of several hundred schoolchildren.
They sang, carried makeshift whales, chalked whale pictures onto the road and waved banners urging "Save the Whales" and "Peace for our Whales."
© 2003 AFP