Red-letter day for whales?

This Friday will be a red-letter day for some of the world’s most endangered whales, writes Malcolm Brown in the Sydney Morning Herald

Anti-whaling groups are making a last-ditch stand this week to stave off what many see as inevitable – a wholesale shift in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) towards exploitation, including possible abolition of conservation measures so painstakingly achieved in the past.

Japan, Norway, Greenland and Iceland are leading the push in the commission’s convention in South Korea, beginning on Friday, to water down restrictions. What they will do specifically is yet to be seen but conservationists suspect that they will attack all conservation measures, including the number of whales permitted to be killed.

Developing countries support overturn

A growing number of developing countries have recently joined the commission, and are known to support efforts to overturn the moratorium on international whaling.

In the past few years Kiribati, Mali, Suriname, Ivory Coast and Tuvalu have joined, and are understood to have no particular objection to commercial whaling

Darren Kindleysides, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, which has lobbied the Prime Minister, John Howard, said things did not look good. “It looks like Japan and the other whaling nations may well have the majority,” he said.

Diplomacy and law

The federal Minister for Environment, Senator Ian Campbell, said last week there would be diplomatic approaches to Japan. Australian conservationists are discussing a possible action in the International Court of Justice against Japan for breaches of the moratorium on commercial whaling.

Australia has virtually written off its proposal to establish a whale sanctuary south from the Great Australian Bight, an area that would have linked an Australian protective zone with internationally recognised protection zones in both the Southern and Indian oceans. Australia might refer the proposal to the conservation committee of the IWC, a body dismissed by Japan as irrelevant and dominated by greenies.

The Japanese have already antagonised Australian conservationists by whaling in Australia’s Antarctic Territory. The Federal Government cannot enforce its territorial claims because they are not recognised by all governments. The Humane Society thinks that a Federal Court action in Australia against Japan on the grounds that it is breaching Australian territoriality is possible. But no decision has yet been made by the Federal Court that it go ahead and the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, has told the court the Government does not want the action.

Terms of reference to change?

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society claims in a media briefing that there could be a change in the terms of reference of all whaling commission committees and working groups to remove all conservation aspects and exclude conservation groups from attending meetings of the commission. Japan is understood to favour winding up the newly formed conservation committee, arguing that its mandate is outside the competence of the commission.

Dr Margi Prideaux, the Australasian director of the whale and dolphin society, asked: “How is it that so few people with an interest in an outmoded industry can make such sweeping decisions on behalf of the rest of the world?”

She suggested another form of diplomacy. “Australia has supported Japan in the past in other forums,” she said. “It is time for Australia to ask for something back.”

Nicola Beynon, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society International, suggested a bit more stick. “Japan is trying to get onto the UN Security Council,” she said. “The question could be raised about its presence at the IWC.”