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Whaling ban under threat

LONDON, England -- Conservationists are urging governments to reject pressure from Norway and Japan to legalise the commercial slaughter of whales.

Member states of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) are gathering for the start on Monday of a week-long meeting in London to decide on the future of commercial whaling.

Japan and Norway are expected to vote against the IWC's current international ban on commercial whaling and the creation of a new sanctuary in the South Pacific proposed by Australia and New Zealand.

To compound the issue, Iceland will seek to rejoin the IWC this week under the proviso that it can resume whaling.

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Although commercial whale hunting was outlawed 15 years ago, seven out of 13 species of great whales are still officially classed as "endangered " or "vulnerable," according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Japan and Norway have continued killing whales at a rate of more than 1,000 a year since the moratorium was introduced in 1986.

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Japan says the whales it kills are for "scientific research" and Norway says the whales it kills are for domestic consumption only.

Six Caribbean nations that sided with Japan last year to reject the South Pacific whaling sanctuary appear likely to again vote against the sanctuary.

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Kitts and Nevis have said outright they will not change their position, which has attracted millions in aid from Japan.

"So as long as the whales are not an endangered species, I don't see any reason why if we are able to support the Japanese and the quid pro quo is that they will give us some assistance. I'm not going to be a hypocrite," Antiguan Prime Minister Lester Bird was quoted by the Associated Press.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is allowed to hunt two whales a year, among a handful of countries that have an exemption for indigenous people and traditional hunting.

Grenada's agriculture minister, Claris Charles, said at a recent symposium that Grenada would not change its stance.

Greenpeace says that the pro-whaling position had been strengthened by a Japanese pledge of aid in return for support.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark admitted earlier on Monday that the joint Australia-New Zealand proposal for a whale sanctuary would fail for a second year.

Clark said New Zealand was "very concerned by the stacking of the membership of the International Whaling Commission."

She asked why a raft of countries, including Senegal, Gabon, Panama and Morocco, had suddenly rejoined the commission after membership lapses.

The returned members are all expected to vote against the South Pacific sanctuary.

Clark said New Zealand and other South Pacific states could unilaterally declare their maritime economic zones as sanctuaries if the Pacific sanctuary plan was voted down.

"We're going to have to look at other ways of approaching the issue, if the International Whaling Commission is as badly stacked as that," she told AP.

International celebrities and politicians have joined conservationists and animal welfare groups calling for the IWC to prevent wholesale whaling.

A giant "Whale Wall" has been signed by Hollywood stars Robin Williams and Kate Beckinsale, British actress Dame Judi Dench and pop stars Travis, Massive Attack and Sinead O'Connor.

Meanwhile, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is controversially planning to dish out whale meat outside the meeting.

The group believes that meat eaters would cause less suffering if they ditched chicken nuggets and haddock fillets in favour of whale meat.

PETA's Vegan Campaign co-ordinator Bruce Friedrich told PA: "We're obviously in favour of saving whales, but if you're not a vegetarian face facts -- you are responsible for far more suffering and deaths than one Japanese or Norwegian whaler.

"Whales enjoy the vast freedom of the sea and the company of their families before they are harpooned and bled to death -- unlike miserable factory-farmed animals.

"For most, their only venture outside the stench-filled factory farms is when they are kicked and prodded on to the lorries that haul them to the slaughterhouses."






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