Proposed protection for whales from climate change, but not whaling



Humpback whale

Credit: iStockphoto

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This week's meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has seen the adoption of a major climate change resolution and highlighted current threats to whales, while member nations have come head-to-head regarding their future protection.

The 61st annual meeting of the IWC has seen 85 member countries come together in Madeira, Portgual, who unanimously decided yesterday that climate change is a key threat to the world's whales.

They have set forward a resolution urging governments to commit to reducing emissions at the UN Climate meeting in Copenhagen at the end of the year in order to address this issue.

"This is a very positive development that will help ensure that climate negotiations take into account impacts on biodiversity," said Rob Nicoll, Antarctic and Southern Ocean Initiatives Manager for WWF-Australia.

"However, members did not take action that would stop commercial whaling outside of IWC regulation, which is a fundamental problem that the IWC must address, and which continues today."

This discussion of the IWC's whaling regulations was foremost on the meeting's agenda, with pro and anti-whaling blocs both pushing for changes.

Many governments, including Australia's, were demanding closure of loopholes in the IWC's founding treaty that allow, for example, "scientific" whaling for research purposes (as used by Japan), or whaling under "objection to management decisions" (as used by Norway).

Despite the global moratorium on commercial whaling introduced in 1986, together the two countries have used these loopholes to kill up to 2,000 whales annually.

Meanwhile, the Japanese government has been pushing for a whaling quota to be introduced that would allow whales to be caught, quasi-commercially, in its own coastal waters, causing much controversy.

Debate on this issue has been ongoing, said IWC head William Hogarth.

"I don't think that people are willing to wait more than one year [for a solution]...If we don't have answers by 2010, I think a lot of countries will be looking for another way to solve this," he said.

The meeting has also heard that Greenland plans to up its subsistence whaling quotas for humpbacks, while in recent months Iceland has substantially raised its own quotas for hunting minke whales and endangered fin whales.

"If we thought we'd save the whale, we were wrong," said Darren Kindleysides, director of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, in response to the failing efforts of the IWC treaty to stop commercial whaling.

"Incredibly almost 30,000 of the planet's whales have been killed since the ban of whaling. In recent years, Japan has doubled the number of whales killed under the thin disguise of scientific research in the Southern Ocean. Furthermore, the last year has seen more whale meat traded internationally than in the entire decade before."

The moratorium on whaling must be upheld and strengthened, he said, in order to advance whale conservation.

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