The International Whaling Commission’s conference, underway in London, could see a policy shift from the British government that tips the balance in favour of a reintroduction of whaling

A decade after the International Whaling Commission (IWC) introduced a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling, there are signs that the British government might be the critical factor in the reversal of that moratorium.

Prior to the IWC conference, currently underway in London, the British government was subject to intensive lobbying from Icelandic, Japanese and Norwegian interests aimed at a ‘managed’ reintroduction of commercial Minke and Humpback whaling.

Having boycotted the IWC nine years ago in protest at the moratorium, Iceland has returned to the table in anticipation of a reversal, encouraged by signs of support for ‘sustainable whaling’.

The pro-whaling nations are proposing a quota revision and a new management system that facilitates counting, monitoring and killing whales in areas of greatest population.

Greenpeace have attacked the move, believing this to be the thin end of a bloody wedge that will lead to the return of unrestricted whaling on the high seas. In return for Overseas Development Aid (1), many smaller nations, particularly Caribbean nations, vote with Japan. Plans for a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary have already been rejected by Japanese-sponsored block-voting.

“Yet again Japan’s vote buying means that South Pacific Nations have been denied their right to a whale sanctuary,” said Pio Manoa, a Fijian Greenpeace whale campaigner at the IWC conference. “The fact that Japan has bought the votes of many developing countries, some of which are island states, is a slap in the face to the South Pacific and has grave consequences for the future protection of whales.”

The British government believes that if certain populations are large enough then a limited and strictly monitored program of whaling would not jeopardise the future of the species and could bring us much more information about whales.

In reality, the Japanese have admitted to catching 300-400 Minke whales a year behind the fig leaf of ‘science’. The whales caught for ‘scientific purposes’ inevitably find their way to Japan’s fish markets where a huge premium is placed on their meat.

The introduction of limited whaling should, if it takes place, bring with it stringent guidelines and teeth to enforce transgression. While this would be an improvement on the largely unmonitored practice of scientific whaling, it would legitimise the hunting and killing of whales and with the fox-hunting issue still unresolved, this could incite still more trouble for the government.