U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica yesterday ordered the United States to file an official objection to the International Whaling Commission's ban on hunting the bowhead whale.
The objection, which must be filed by midnight Monday under commission rules, would mean that the United States would disregard the commission's ban, and allow Alaskan Eskimos to hunt the endangered whale.
Sirica issued his temporary restraining order a day after the State Department announced it would not object to the commission's ban, culminating months of intensive debate within the Carter administration, and emotional lobbying by conservationists and Eskimos alike.
The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, a group of whaling captains who say the hunting is crucial to their diet and culture, filed suit seeking the order yesterday after issuing a press release declaring "The Eskimo people have been betrayed" and President Carter had "succumbed to the vocal minority of animal-loving, people-hating conservaionist."
Sirica's order is effective 10 days, during which the United States and the whalers would present arguments in the case. However, conservationists yesterday predicted the order would be appealed this weekend.
If Sirica vacates his temporary order, or if the order is overturned by a higher court, the United States could then withdraw its objection to the hunting ban.
"Judge Sirica didn't understand the case," said Patricia Forkan, of the Humane Society of the United States. "He didn't grasp he had a 'Whale-gate" on his hands. There's been more doubledealing here than during Watergate."
If the United States objects to the ban on bow-head hunting, she said, "We will see the loss of thousands of whale lives and the end of a viable International Whaling Commission," because the Japanese and other nations will object to quotas on the sperm whale and other whales.
"In the past, we've threatened the Japanese and the Soviets with embargoes if they objected to their quotas. If we object now, we'll no longer be taken seriously when we say we want to conserve something," Forkan said.
The Eskimo whalers, however, said they were never informed about the commission's concern about their hunting and that the ban is "totally unsupported by scientific data."
"We feel sad to live in a country which has become so morally bankrupt what it will foarsake the human values upon which this nation was founded in order to save face in an international forum . . .
"We could not believe the United States would let such a thing happen to a group of its citizens. After all, President Carter was speaking throughout the world in favor of human rights," the Eskimos said, noting that the hunting is a 7,000-year-old Eskimo tradition.