WASHINGTON – A ban on commercial whale hunting since 1986 hasn’t stopped Japan, Iceland and Norway from killing 35,000 whales, according to U.S. government counts. Now the International Whaling Commission has proposed a new approach: Legalize whaling for those three nations for the next 10 years, but impose limits and watch the whalers more carefully.
The plan doesn’t propose to phase out commercial whaling, even though whales in many areas have not rebounded in numbers and face other threats. Environmental groups say it’s far too weak and could open the way to more commercial whaling fleets launching from Russia and other countries.
The whaling moratorium brought a sharp drop in the number of whales hunted and killed when it went into effect. In recent years, however, the three whaling nations have been killing whales in increasing numbers. Last year, the three countries that hunt for whales despite the ban – Japan, Iceland and Norway – killed about 1,700 whales, including minke, fin, sei, gray and Bryde’s whales.
“What we recommend, our precautionary approach, is to set the numbers (for commercial hunts) at zero until scientists can prove otherwise, and they’re doing it backwards,” said Susan Millward of the Animal Welfare Institute.
Some whale populations have rebounded in some parts of the world, but many are in decline or their numbers are unknown. Whales also face other threats from humans, such as overfishing of prey species and ship strikes.
Japan has used a loophole that allows killing whales for scientific research, even though the whale meat ends up in supermarkets and sushi bars. Norway and Iceland have used a loophole that allows them to continue whaling because they objected to the ban. The three countries set their own quotas.
Over the last three years, a group of nations including the United States has been talking about a compromise plan that would restore authority of the International Whaling Commission and improve whale conservation. The chairman of the IWC, Christian Maquieira, on Thursday announced a proposal for the 88 IWC member countries to consider at a meeting in June.
The proposal would allow the three countries to catch whales according to IWC quotas and would increase the organization’s monitoring of hunts.
The IWC said in a news release that several thousand fewer whales would be killed over a 10-year period if the proposal is adopted.
Decisions of the IWC require a three-fourths majority. Japan has persuaded many countries to line up with its positions in past votes.