EU divided over whale hunting

For the first time in many years Europe plans to hunt more whales than Japan. This has divided European Union (EU) countries and is dismaying conservationists. They say that whaling is escalating in response to the worldwide recession.

According to the Guardian, figures which show that Norway, Denmark and Iceland propose to hunt 1 478 whales, compared with Japan’s 1 280 in 2009—an increase of nearly 20% by Europe on last year.

“Europe likes to point the finger at Japan as a rogue whaling nation but Europeans are killing whales in increasing numbers in their own waters.
Europe has become whale enemy number one,” said Kate O’Connell, campaigner for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).

Iceland—which recently killed the first two of 150 fin whales—and Norway are the only two countries to hunt commercially. This breaches a 23-year-old worldwide moratorium to preserve critically endangered whale populations.

This year Norway proposes to kill 885 minke whales and Iceland 350 whales in total. Denmark will apply to hunt 245 on behalf of indigenous Inuit hunters in its semi-autonomous territory, Greenland. Most of the whale meat caught in European waters will be sold to Japan.

Japan, which practises thinly disguised commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research, plans to kill 850 whales in Antarctic waters this season and more than 400 in the Pacific. It wants to kill fewer whales than last year but is seeking permission to hunt more in its coastal waters.

Britain recently increased diplomatic pressure on Iceland to stop whaling, warning that it intended to make it a condition of the country’s expected application to join the EU.

The fisheries minister, Huw Irranca-Davies, said: “If Iceland were to join Europe then Britain would expect they would be obliged to end their whaling operation. We would urge renegotiation.”

A spokesperson for the Iceland government said: “The government has said it will honour this year’s quota but will reassess the whaling situation by the end of the year. A study is being done by the economic institute of the University of Iceland. Whaling will obviously be part of the talks when Iceland negotiates its entry to the EU.”

Conservation groups WWF and WDCS released an independent economic report before the International Whaling Commission summit in Madeira recently. It said that whaling is no longer economically viable.

Japan, it claimed, has spent $164-million backing its whaling industry since 1988 and Norwegian subsidies equal almost half of the gross value of all whale-meat landings. Sales of whale meat, blubber and other whale products in Japan “have made financial losses for most of the last 20 years”, it said.

The research said that killing more whales will hurt the growing whale-watching industry and damage the international image of Norway and Japan.

“Norway and Japan are hurting tourism, a potential growth industry in both countries, to spend millions of dollars obtaining whale meat, the sale of which makes no profit. How much longer are they going to keep wasting their taxpayers’ money?” said a WWF spokesperson.

Earlier this year more than 115 000 people pledged to visit Iceland when the government announced an end to whaling.

In the whaling commission the number of pro- and anti-whaling countries is finely balanced, with both sides trying to recruit as many countries as possible.

Japan has, in the past, offered small countries development aid to vote with it, whereas Britain and other countries have leaned on eastern European countries not to do so.

Australia and New Zealand said they would mount a non-lethal whale research expedition to the Antarctic. This is a direct challenge to Japan’s research programme, which maintains it must kill whales to study them. The six-week expedition aims to prove that whales needn’t be killed for study.

The whaling commission meeting was held amid fears that environment groups are stepping up campaigns to stop whaling. A previously unknown Norwegian group called Agenda 21 attacked a whaling ship in April, bringing to six the number of whaling boats sabotaged in Norway.

Sea Shepherd, a radical California-based group which has admitted sabotaging whalers in Iceland and elsewhere, has also threatened to return to Europe. The Icelandic whaling ship Hvalur 9 recently returned to the Hvalfjord whaling station to process its first catch. —

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