Friday, June 27, 2008

News; Whale Meet Ends With Peace Agenda

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has ended with member governments agreeing to try and resolve their differences.

The next year will see intensive dialogue between pro- and anti-whaling countries, and could lead to a package deal next year.

But there is still significant water between the camps on key issues.

The meeting also decided to embark on a research programme into the impact of climate change on whales.

The only vote of the meeting saw Greenland's bid to add humpback whales to the annual hunt by its indigenous Inuit communities defeated.

Quiet optimism

IWC chairman William Hogarth, the US commissioner, was cautiously optimistic that the peace talks might bear fruit.

"I was basically very happy with the meeting, although I don't think it's going to be easy, there are definitely some big issues such as the lethal take of whales and scientific research whaling," he told BBC News.

Map showing a possible whaling sanctuary
Environment groups backed plans for a whaling sanctuary in the South Atlantic

"The number of whales being killed is increasing; and I think the way we ought to be looking at this, from the point of view of countries that are anti-whaling, is how can we reduce that number?"

All members of the commission, ranging from the strongest whaling nations including Japan to the most vociferous opponents such as the UK and Australia, have endorsed the idea of seeking compromise, although some were more pessimistic about its prospects when talking on the meeting's fringes.

Environmental and animal welfare groups are divided. Some agree with Dr Hogarth's view that it might lead to a fall in the number of whales killed, while others say there should be no compromise, and are angry with anti-whaling governments including the US for pursuing the initiative.

Japan is likely to demand as its most fundamental position that the global moratorium on commercial whaling is at least partially lifted to allow hunting around its shores.

"It's not just the interests of the American people that are being abandoned, but also the future of the world's whales," said DJ Schubert of the Animal Welfare Institute.

But Wendy Elliott of WWF's global species programme said a dialogue was worthwhile.

"We cannot continue in the scenario that we have at the moment; we need to see a resolution to this impasse," she said.

"We'll be working with member governments over the next year to ensure the best outcome for whales, and for the communities that rely on whales for whale-watching tourism."

Conservation groups were also pleased with the decision to set up an initiative on climate change and cetaceans. Changes to sea ice in the polar regions has the potential to impact some species severely.

A series of discussions will now be held leading to the next IWC meeting in Portugal in a year's time.

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