(May 31, 2007)

Greenland granted expansion of whale hunt

By Daisuke Wakabayashi
From Reuters

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The International Whaling Commission passed a proposal on Thursday to let Greenland expand indigenous whale hunting after the Danish territory broke a deadlock by agreeing not to start catching humpback whales.

Greenland's representatives postponed the vote to negotiate and eventually agreed to give up a proposed new hunt quota of 10 humpback whales. Of the 77-member nations, 41 voted in support of Greenland's proposal versus 11 against with the remainder being absent, abstaining or not allowed to vote.

The proposal, first made by Denmark on Tuesday, increases western Greenland's minke whale catch limits by 25 a year to 200 in the five-year period ending in 2012 and introduces two bowhead whales into its annual hunt.

Greenland said the catch limits allowed by the IWC over the last 20 years did not meet the dietary needs of its people.

Anti-whaling nations had said that there was not enough evidence to accept that an increase in catch limits would be sustainable.

Atlantic minke whale numbers have been estimated at around 180,000, with another 700,000 around Antarctica.


Greenland's proposal passed with relative ease, but a Japanese proposal -- expected to come to a vote later on Thursday -- is expected to be much more contentious.

Japan's proposal seeks to allow four of its coastal villages to catch minke whales on the premise that such a whale hunt would fall under the umbrella of community whaling because whaling has been part of its culture for thousands of years.

Passage of the proposal would, in effect, lift a 1986 ban on commercial whaling that is responsible for saving the Earth's largest creatures from extinction, according to Japan's critics.

On Wednesday, Japan postponed a decision to call a formal vote on the matter to leave more time to negotiate, fueling speculation from meeting attendees of a back room deal.

Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected the idea of a last-minute deal to pass the Japanese proposal in exchange for concessions from Japan on its controversial plan to add 50 humpback whales into its scientific whaling program.

"There was an attempt, an effort, to essentially hold 50 humpbacks hostage," said Turnbull at a news conference. "I don't think there was any prospect of it being accepted."

Humpback whales are noted for the complex songs sung by males and for their acrobatic behavior, making them popular with whale-watching tourists. Their numbers have recovered somewhat and are estimated at between 30,000 and 60,000. This is still only about a third of pre-whaling levels and the species continues to be classified as vulnerable.

Japan, which leads the pro-whaling bloc and has gathered support from African, Caribbean and some Asian nations, is allowed to take more than 1,000 whales for scientific research. Critics say most of the meat ends up at supermarkets and restaurants and it rarely publishes its findings.

Turnbull said passing the coastal whaling proposal would set a precedent that could not be undone in the future.

"The minute you open the door to commercial whaling, how do you shut it again? That is the problem," he said.

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