Whaling Compromise Rejected

Exchanging verbal blows, Australia and Japan announced this week that neither country will accept last week's proposal by the chair of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for a compromise over the divisive issue of whaling. Chair Cristián Maquieira's proposal would have permitted limited commercial whale hunts for three IWC member nations for a decade as a way to heal the organization, which is deeply divided between pro- and antiwhaling nations. In 1986, IWC enacted a ban against such whaling, but Japan, Norway, and Iceland have continued since to hunt whales under various IWC-allowed exceptions, and 35,000 whales have been killed as a result.

Under the new plan, Japan could legally hunt whales in the Antarctic's Southern Ocean Sanctuary, but its quota would drop from 935 to 400 minke whales for 5 years and then be slashed to 200 for the plan's final 5 years. In exchange, Japan would be permitted to harpoon 10 fin whales in the sanctuary and 120 minke whales in its own coastal waters. Fin whales are considered an endangered species.

Japan has now turned down the deal.

Its Fisheries Minister, Hirotaka Akamatsu, says the plan too drastically cuts its Antarctic catch. (Currently, Japan sets its own quota; the IWC plan would put the organization back in control of Japan and other member nations' whaling.) Akamatsu says Japan will lobby for higher quota numbers. "As usual, [Japan] wants everything and will give nothing away in exchange," says Phillip Clapham, a cetacean biologist and a U.S. delegate to IWC's Scientific Committee.

Australia's environment minister, Peter Garrett, has also rejected the compromise and yesterday spelled out his government's position in a speech. The setting was fitting, because Garrett reiterated his government's intention to take action against Japan at an international court should Japan send its whaling fleet to the Antarctic in November. (Prime Minister Kevin Rudd threatened legal action against Japan in February; his administration has actively sought an end to Japan's "scientific whaling" in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary). Australia is also pursuing its plan to introduce a counterproposal to IWC, which Garrett says has the support of "allies, particularly in South America and some countries in Europe." The Australian proposal calls for all IWC-sanctioned whaling, except indigenous peoples' subsistence whaling, to be phased out over a 5-year period.

"The reaction of both countries to the Compromise Proposal clearly indicates it is a balanced proposal since neither of them agree with the numbers," Maquieira said in an e-mail statement to ScienceInsider. "If countries can only accept their own position as the final solution, the status-quo will prevail."

Douglas DeMaster, the deputy U.S. commissioner to IWC, also says that the United States has "rejected the proposal. However, it supports the process to revise IWC and is participating in the ongoing negotiations. The United States will try to lead multinational efforts to maximize conservation efforts for the whales. But what is achievable will only be known in Agadir [at the full IWC meeting], not before."

At this stage, both Australia and Japan also have agreed to continue with negotiations as all member nations prepare for IWC's full meeting in Agadir, Morocco, at the end of June. Any proposal must be ratified by three-quarters of IWC's members.