Japan to push ahead with humpback-whale hunt

Japan said on Tuesday it was pushing ahead with its controversial plan to hunt humpback whales after key powers refused a compromise offer and despite warnings by Australia and New Zealand it would be a “provocative act”.

“Japan is proceeding with its full research programme as planned at this stage and this includes the humpbacks,” Glenn Inwood, the spokesperson for the Japanese delegation at the annual talks of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), told Agence France-Presse.

His remarks came as Australia, New Zealand, Britain and the United States held talks on the issue with Japan on the sidelines of the four-day meeting which began in Anchorage, Alaska on Monday.

Officials said there was no breakthrough.

“We have agreed to continue talking but as yet we have reached no common position,” New Zealand’s Conservation Minister Chris Carter told reporters.

Japan’s top official at the commission, Joji Morishita, echoed Carter’s remarks. The Japanese delegation had said before the meeting they had “very low expectations” of breaking the deadlock.

Japan wants to kill 50 humpbacks this summer, from stocks that migrate along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand into the tropical Pacific, under its whale scientific research programme.

The plan has drawn fire from the two countries as well as environmental groups concerned over the mammals’ fate.

Humpback whales are renowned for their acrobatic displays, drawing millions of whale watchers annually, and generating more than $1-billion in income for coastal communities around the world, said Patrick Ramage from the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

At the opening of the 75-nation IWC talks on Monday, Japan said it was prepared to consider shelving the humpback hunting plan if the IWC allowed its small coastal communities in four Japanese towns to hunt minke whales.

Tokyo’s compromise plan was immediately dismissed by a coalition of anti-whaling nations: Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Britain, Argentina, Germany and the United States.

Carter and Australian environment minister Malcolm Turnbull on Monday condemned the humpback hunting plan.

Japan’s proposal is an “extraordinary provocative gesture to the people of New Zealand and we are asking you as a measure of goodwill to build better dialogue”, Carter said.

“If there is one thing the Japanese government can do at this meeting ... it would be to drop the humpbacks from the programme,” he said.
“It is a very, very provocative act.”

He said Tokyo’s demand on the humpbacks was a “calculated” move “to undermine dramatically the standing, the affection, the relationship between the Australian and the Japanese people.”

The fate of the endangered mammals is not “a matter of horse trading and negotiations,” Britain’s Biodiversity Minister Barry Gardiner said.

The IWC’s founding treaty allows whales to be killed under so-called “special permits” for scientific research, issued by member governments of the commission.

The IWC, which manages whaling and is in charge of conservation of the creatures, has banned commercial whaling since 1986 and environmental groups say Japan is exploiting a legal loophole allowing whaling for scientific research.

Japan kills about 1 000 whales a year under its scientific programme then sells the meat.

Ignoring a global outcry, Japan together with Iceland and Norway continues to push for the lifting of the 20-year moratorium on commercial whale hunting.

Japan last year won a non-binding resolution in favour of commercial whaling, but fell short of the number of supporters needed to overturn the moratorium.

Despite the moratorium, the IWC has a policy of allowing so-called subsistence hunts for natives in four nations to satisfy longstanding needs.

At the IWC talks on Tuesday, delegates unanimously agreed to renew five-year quotas for whale hunts by Alaskan natives in the United States and the indigenous Chukotka people in Russia as well as those in St Vincent and the Grenadines.

But it deferred Greenland’s renewal bid as the Danish territory wants to add humpback whales to its quota and also expand the number of bowhead whales for its aboriginal hunters, officials said. - Sapa-AFP

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