Talks on reducing whale hunting break down

By Marc Kaufman and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 24, 2010

Three years of talks aimed at reducing whaling activity by Japan, Norway and Iceland broke down Wednesday, leaving management of the population of the world's largest animals essentially in the hands of whale hunters.

Anthony Liverpool, acting chairman of the International Whaling Commission, told delegates meeting in Agadir, Morocco, that "fundamental positions remained very much apart."

The goal of the meeting was to forge a 10-year compromise that would create a legal framework to allow limited whale hunting by Japan, Norway and Iceland. The commission has banned all types of whale hunting, but the three whale-hunting nations consistently ignore the bans. Through loopholes in the law, they have caught thousands of the mammals since the 1980s.

Delegates of the commission's 88 member governments were trying to work out a plan proposed by the United States and other anti-whaling nations to let the three countries conduct whaling expeditions, but under tight international control and at significantly lower numbers.

The talks reportedly failed over the issue of how many whales Japan could kill in the waters off Antarctica, where Japanese whalers hunt hundreds of whales each year. The compromise plan also called for a gradual phase-out of the Japanese hunt in the South Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Japanese officials balked at that step.

The Japanese government says its whaling activity is for scientific purposes, but critics say the Japanese hunts are commercial. Newspaper accounts of alleged Japanese efforts to buy votes of poor nations also made compromise difficult.

Japanese delegate Yasue Funayama said her country had offered major concessions and agreed "to elements which are extremely difficult to accept." She blamed the failure of the talks on countries that refused to accept the killing of even a single animal.

U.S. Whaling Commissioner Monica Medina said the American delegation did push hard to phase out virtually all whale hunting over time. "We think that all whaling, other than indigenous subsistence whaling, should come to an end," she said.

The compromise proposal to limit whaling significantly but allow some legal hunting was controversial among environmental groups, some of which opposed the notion of any legal whaling.

"Under a cloud of corruption allegations, the IWC is taking a safe course, opting for a cooling- off period that protects the moratorium and other IWC conservation measures," said Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Global Whale Campaign. "Had it been done here, this deal would have lived in infamy."

But Sue Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environmental Group, said in a statement: "We are deeply disappointed that the governments present here, after more than three years of intense work, could not reach a solution that will benefit whale conservation." Speaking to the hundreds of delegates after the negotiations ended, former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, who tried to forge a compromise, said: "I think ultimately if we don't make some changes to this organization in the next few years, it may be very serious, possibly fatal for the organization -- and the whales will be worse off."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company