Peace pledges as whale meet opens

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Countries on both sides of the whaling divide are pledging a new spirit of co-operation as the International Whaling Commission (IWC) convenes.

There is general agreement that the global body charged with conserving whales and regulating whaling does neither task very effectively.

A year-long diplomatic effort by the US has built bridges between the parties.

But there is still deep suspicion, and a fundamental divide over whether it is right to hunt whales at all.

It appears that Japan, the head of the pro-hunting bloc, and most of its traditional opponents sense they have something to gain from trying to find common ground.

The hunting nations would gain legitimacy, while the prizes for the anti-whalers could include a smaller annual catch, the end of scientific whaling and greater regulation of the hunting that does take place.

If the spirit of harmony survives this week, another year of diplomacy is expected, aiming to agree a package of reforms by the next annual meeting.

“Every party I’ve talked to senses that the IWC cannot continue on the path it’s on and I think that’s the first thing, to recognise that you have problems,” said William Hogarth, the US whaling commissioner who, as IWC chair, has been leading the diplomacy.

“There’s no doubt that the only way to do this is to negotiate a package – everybody wins, nobody loses – but for the sake of the whales, we need to do this.”

Compromise question

What concerns some countries and some groups in the anti-whaling camp is that the package would almost certainly have to include a partial lifting of the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, which to some is sacrosanct.

“Australia hasn’t come to this whaling commission to compromise at all,” Australian environment minister Peter Garrett told reporters.

“We are strongly of the view that we do not want to see the commercial exploitation of whale populations.”

Some conservation groups feel the same way. But others believe that a deal might curb the annual whale catch which has risen steadily since the moratorium was established.

“The question is, do we accept the status quo and see more than 1,600 whales killed each year, or do we look and see is there a solution?” said Sue Lieberman, director of the global species programme for WWF International.

“We don’t like commercial whaling at all. But if there could be a package that reduced what’s gong on right now, I think it would be wrong not at least to put it on the table and see what’s on offer; but it has to be much better for whales than what we’ve got right now.”

Source: BBC News