Japan Fails in Latest Bid to Undermine Global Ban on Whaling

Saturday, June 17, 2006

FRIGATE BAY, St. Kitts and Nevis, June 16 -- Japan lost two crucial votes Friday at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission, calming fears it might have finally won a majority at the body and could begin to chip away at the two-decade-old global ban on whaling.

Japan's proposal to bring in secret ballots so that small Pacific and Caribbean countries could back its pro-whaling stance without criticism from environmentalists was defeated by a vote of 33 to 30, with one abstention.

Earlier, Japan and other pro-whaling countries failed to stop the group from discussing the fate of dolphins, porpoises and small whales, which are not covered by the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling but which conservationists say are as threatened as the great whales.

The 32 to 30 vote against a proposal to remove small cetaceans from the IWC's agenda at the gathering on this Caribbean island state was seen as a bellwether of the balance of power at the agency.

Environmental groups and anti-whaling nations had feared that Tokyo might finally have been in a position to start challenging the whaling ban, which is credited by all sides with saving great whales from extinction.

"It's a big vote for small cetaceans," said Patrick Ramage, director of communications for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Japan and other whaling nations, including Norway and Iceland, have fought since 1974 to convince the IWC that it should limit its conservationist efforts to large whales and stop discussing the fate of dolphins and porpoises, which it hunts in large numbers in its coastal waters primarily for food and other products.

Japan has abided by the moratorium on commercial whaling but uses a loophole that allows scientific whaling.

Japan's fleets brought back 850 minke whales from Antarctic waters last season and 10 fin whales, and it plans to start hunting humpbacks.

Iceland also conducts scientific whaling. Norway, the only nation to defy the international ban, has set its hunters a quota this year of 1,052 minke whales, a small species whose meat is eaten as steaks.

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