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Whaling resumption debated at intl commission

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Latest update : 2008-06-23

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Chile could lift a 12-year ban on commercial whaling. Environmental groups warn of the consequences of such a decision, which is supported by Iceland, Japan and Norway.

The International Whaling Commission, a treaty organization grouping 80 countries, was to meet on Monday in Chile to debate a possible resumption of commercial whale-hunting.

If the IWC lifts its 12-year ban on whaling, it would seriously deepen divisions between member states opposed to the hunts and those -- chiefly Iceland, Japan and Norway -- in favor.

Environmental groups including the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Greenpeace warned ahead of the meeting that Japan wanted to catch whales in four of its coastal areas for non-scientific ends.

Milko Schvartzman, a regional Greenpeace coordinator, said the position Japan would take during the talks was unclear but that Tokyo would likely press on with its efforts to resume commercial whaling.

Beatriz Bugeda, from the IFAW, said she believed Japan would claim a right to hunting in the four coastal areas on the basis that communities there traditionally lived off whales.

The Japanese delegate to the IWC, Joji Morishita, did not confirm his country's agenda at the meeting but he reaffirmed support for commercial whaling, according to an interview given to Chile's El Mercurio newspaper.

Morishita said his country's consumption of whale meat went back hundreds of years and should be respected by the rest of the world.

"This is a case of accepting the coexistence of different cultures," he said.

The official stressed, however, that Japan was not pushing for an open season on all types of whales, just those determined to have abundant populations.

"Sometimes people opposed to hunting say that the whales are in peril, but that is like saying birds are in peril," he said.

Japan kills some 1,000 whales a year using a loophole in the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling that allows "lethal research" on the ocean giants. Norway and Iceland defy the moratorium altogether.

The week-long IWC meeting in Santiago is to also review whale and dolphin populations, and the creation of a whale sanctuary in the south Atlantic.

The idea of a whale reserve was put forward by the "Buenos Aires Group", a union of several Latin American countries backing cetacean research and conservation.

It seeks to establish an ocean domain in which whale hunting is always prohibited and whale-watching tourism encouraged.

"The importance of creating a sanctuary in the south Atlantic will provide protection against the indiscriminate hunting of key species and allow whale-watching in the area, for instance of species like humpback and Pygmy Right whales," Bugeda said.

For the sanctuary proposal to be adopted, it has to garner 75 percent of the votes. A previous attempt failed to reach that bar.

The Buenos Aires Group comprises Argentina, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.

Chile is also expected to announce a own whale sanctuary in territorial waters it claims up to 4,500 kilometers (2,700 miles) off shore.

Date created : 2008-06-23

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