Talks between pro- and anti-whaling countries on how to resolve their differences have ended with agreement to look for dialogue and common ground.
Japan pledged not to seek commercial whaling quotas in the immediate future, and offered to discuss its current scientific hunt in the Antarctic.
Some delegates talked of an eventual “package deal” between the factions.
Delegates spent three days in talks near Heathrow Airport called by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
“I’m detecting a willingness for governments at least to talk,” said Sue Lieberman, director of the global species programme at the environmental group WWF.
“No-one’s going to change anyone’s mind; Japan isn’t going to suddenly say ‘I’m sorry about whaling,’ nor are the anti-whaling countries going to say ‘we’re sorry, we’re wrong, we think whaling is great.’
“But we’re seeing a willingness of governments to say ‘just a minute – can we work this out?'”
In part, the minds of anti-whaling commissioners have been concentrated by Japan’s threat to leave the IWC, a situation that would essentially leave its whaling unregulated.
The IWC also agreed a statement condemning “dangerous” actions taken by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society as it tries to halt Japan’s Antarctic hunt.
Japan’s alternate (deputy) whaling commissioner Joji Morishita agreed the dialogue had been markedly more constructive than the confrontation usually seen at annual IWC meetings, and that fundamental divisions remained.
“The atmosphere was different, which we appreciated very much, and we also tried to indicate that we are willing to talk and to establish some dialogue,” he told BBC News.
“But at the same time we saw that some participants are still in the mode of the usual black and white discussion, and trying to deny the other side totally.”
Officially, the meeting’s remit was to find more constructive ways for the IWC to do business rather than address the factions’ substantive differences, although those differences inevitably tinged the discussions.
Delegations agreed a statement confirming that nine points for improving the mood had been raised, ranging from making more efforts to achieve consensus with less reliance on voting, to the use of tactics such as breaking into small groups and employing cooling-off periods.
“This is the beginning of a shift in the behaviour of the IWC,” said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand’s whaling commissioner, who has been leading efforts behind the scenes to change the paradigm.
“It’s a new culture for the organisation, and I don’t think there’s any resistance to any of it.”
The sometimes insular whaling community was helped by the involvement of three outside experts, including Calestous Juma, a Harvard University policy expert and former head of the UN biodiversity convention, Raul Estrada Oyuela, chair of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol talks, and Alvaro de Soto, who headed discussions that ended the El Salvador civil war in 1991.