Will Whaling Return?

The International Whaling Commission may allow limited commercial whale hunting.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has been debating whether or not they should lift a 25-year ban on commercial hunting in favor of allowing limited whaling rights. On June 23, 2010, the commission decided what was needed was a cooling-off period—and will likely delay any change in whaling rules for up to a year.

The IWC's authority has long been questioned as three countries—Japan, Norway and Iceland—continue to kill hundreds of whales each year despite a 1986 moratorium outlawing it. Although many tout the moratorium as one of the most effective periods of whale protection in years, others argue that the IWC's inability to provide sanctions and penalties against non-cooperating countries hamper the capacity of the moratorium to make a real difference.

Proposed changes would allow the three non-complying countries limited banning rights in return for a rogue status with the commission and a 10-year period of international monitoring.

Most of the commission continues to support a complete ban on whaling. Others support limited changes with new enforced sanctions such as halting whaling in the Antarctic Whaling Sanctuary, a popular feeding ground for about 80% of the world's whales.

Already, the meeting has been shaken by scandal. In yesterday's issue of the British newspaper Sunday Times, reports show that the IWC Acting Chair and other members of the commission had their traveling expenses paid for by the government of Japan, raising questions about influence and bias.

Patrick Ramage, IFAW's Global Whale Program Director laments, "Of the countries paying their own way here, the vast majority favor permanent protection for whales. However, procedural maneuvers are being used to prevent them from presenting their views in an open session. The Acting Chair has ordered two further days of closed-door meetings to limit time for open debate."

Talks will continue through Friday until a decision can be reached.

Sources: International Whaling Commission; PR Newswire; National Resources Defense Council.