EU must unite to save whales

With the images of whale carcasses being hauled onto ships in the Southern Oceans still fresh in our minds it is clear that some countries are continuing the hunting of whales unabated.

We cannot remain idle and watch such unnecessary hunting happen unhindered.

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Later this month the countries that make up the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will meet in Chile to discuss the ban on hunting whales.

As ever, certain countries will try to undermine the ban or partially lift it. The European Union and its member states cannot let this happen.

They are particularly well placed to influence the outcome of any attempt to lift the ban and must act in unison to prevent a resumption of whale hunting. Commercial whaling which continues under the guises of scientific research is unacceptable.

Whales are unique to our ecosystem. These magnificent creatures are among the largest the world has ever seen, measuring up to 30 metres and weighing up to 160 tonnes.

Three centuries of extensive hunting almost led to their extinction, and while some species have made a comeback since the moratorium on whaling came into force in 1986, the survival of others is still in jeopardy.

The European Union has been and continues to be at the forefront of worldwide efforts to protect these animals. Hunting is banned in European waters, and whale products cannot be imported into the EU for commercial purposes.

A recent proposal by the European Commission supported the creation of whale sanctuaries and other protection measures. But our international leadership on the matter has been undermined in recent years by a divergence of views among member states.

This divergence was clearly apparent at the IWC meeting in St Kitts and Nevis in 2006, and again in Anchorage in 2007 where the EU failed to agree on a number of issues.

The split did little for the international reputation of the EU, but more worryingly it risked compromising the survival of many whale species. There is now a clear danger that nations which are hunting whales might exploit this division in June.

The European Union and its member states must speak with one voice at the meeting in Chile this June. We must thwart any attempt to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling. A united front of all EU member states party to the IWC is important. The June meeting must not mark the beginning of the end for whales.

Under the present IWC regulations the Commission cannot represent the member states, and this puts the onus on individual EU states. The Commission is therefore calling on its members to reach a common position ahead of the next IWC meeting. A collective stance would send a clear message and block any attempts to overturn the ban on commercial whaling.

A considerable number of species hunted by whaling nations are at risk, and many of them would not survive a resumption of hunting. We cannot have the extinction of another species on our conscience.

I strongly urge all member states to live up to their moral obligation to protect whales and to stand together with European Union partners to reinforce the protection of whales.