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Japan attempts to abolish whale sanctuary

Japan is allowed to hunt between 300-400 minke whales annually in the sanctuary under a clause allowing a long-term scientific research program   

April 7, 1999
Web posted at: 11:00 AM EDT

In anticipation of the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Grenada next month, Japan has prepared a motion to abolish a whale sanctuary in the Southern Ocean.

The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was set aside in 1994 as an area where commercial whaling is prohibited. The sanctuary is home to minke whales of the Southern Hemisphere, the only remaining population of great whales in the Antarctic still at a level close to their natural abundance.

Japan, however, is allowed to hunt between 300-400 minke whales annually in the sanctuary under a clause allowing a long-term scientific research program. Japan argues the program is important to estimate the biological parameters which could be used for management, in particular natural mortality, and the elucidation of the role of whales in the Antarctic ecosystem.

Environmentalists such as Greenpeace say Japan's research is actually a commercial hunt in the guise of science. After a few samples are taken, they point out, minke meat ends up in Japan's sushi bars.

"This is a disgraceful move by Japan," said Greenpeace campaigner Darren Gladman. "It exposes its desire to resume the distant water whaling that has devastated whale populations. Japan's preparations are clear for all to see -- the bogus scientific whaling and its investment in new equipment.

"This proposal shows Japan's true intention is to expand its whaling operations," said Gladman. Japan catches whales in the Antarctic in the name of "scientific research", despite repeated calls by the IWC to stop. All meat from the operation is sold on the commercial market and serves to keep the market alive. Last year, the whaling industry built its first new whale catcher in 26 years, calling it "a symbol of hope for the reopening of whaling".

When the IWC was formed in 1946, it inherited a whale sanctuary dating from 1937 and covering one quarter of the Antarctic. The sanctuary has undergone changes over the past few decades, but the IWC has now reached near unanimous agreement (with only Japan dissenting) on the objectives for the current sanctuary. The objectives are the recovery and monitoring of whale populations, study of the effects of not whaling on whales and research on the effects of environmental change on whale populations.

"Sanctuary from whaling is the best way to protect the great whales," Gladman said in a statement. "The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was established with overwhelming support and great hopes in 1994 -- the whales of the Antarctic need study, not whaling. We call on the government of Japan to withdraw its motion to abolish this unique protection for whales."

For more information contact Darren Gladman, Greenpeace, (02)9263 0324.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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