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No Deal On Whales At Global Meet

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No Deal On Whales At Global Meet


No Deal On Whales At Global Meet

No Deal On Whales At Global Meet

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

The International Whaling Commission has failed to agree on a plan to allow Japan to catch whales in coastal waters in exchange for giving up its "scientific research" catches of hundreds of whales annually. Critics say a proposal begin a slippery slope toward ending a two-decade-old moratorium on whaling.


This week, the International Whaling Commission met on the Portuguese island of Madeira. The location was symbolic: Madeira has given up its whaling industry. But despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, Japan, Iceland and Norway have all continued to hunt whales.

As Jerome Socolvsky reports, at this week's meeting, delegates from more than 80 countries have been unable to bridge their difference.

(Soundbite of a motor)

JEROME SOCOLVSKY: An inflatable boat with two powerful motors glides slowly out of Madeira's Funchal Harbor, carrying a dozen tourists on a whale-watching trip. It's a gorgeous day. The waters of the Atlantic are smooth, providing a near perfect mirror image of the sky.

Unidentified Woman: Now, keep looking this direction. We have some sperm whales.

SOCOLOVSKY: The boat moves carefully toward the mother and calf as the sperm whales swim in the clear, cold waters of the North Atlantic. Marine biologist Alicia Freda(ph) says these boat trips try not to disturb the massive sea mammals.

Ms. ALICIA FREDA (Marine Biologist): We slow down the speed when we see a group of animals. We approach slowly. We don't force an approximation. We always try to keep a distance from the animals.

SOCOLOVSKY: A generation ago, many of the boats that plied these waters did just the opposite. Thousands of sperm whales were harpooned in the decades before the ban. Now, Madeira has a thriving whale-watching industry, and it's become a poster child for those who say whales are worth more alive than dead. But whaling nations say it's not about the money.

(Soundbite of crowd)

SOCOLOVSKY: Karsten Klepsvik is Norway's commissioner at the IWC. He says it's about national sovereignty.

Mr. KARSTEN KLEPSVIK (Commissioner, International Whaling Commission, Norway): Whaling, per se, is not important for Norway at all. Why we are doing whaling is because we are a big resource-utilization nation, and for us to be able to utilize the natural resources in a sustainable, scientifically based way is extremely important.

SOCOLOVSKY: Norway and Iceland account for roughly half of the 2,000 whales killed annually. Japan says it kills the other 1,000 for what it calls scientific research. The anti-whaling bloc, led by Australia, alleges that's a guise for commercial whaling by Japan in an Antarctic whale sanctuary.

Ms. DONNA PETRACHENKO (Representative, International Whaling Commission, Australia): Australia believes you don't need to kill a whale to do proper science.

SOCOLOVSKY: Donna Petrachenko represents Australia at the whaling commission. She says the organization itself has become obsolete. Set up to manage commercial whaling, Petrachenko says it should now focus on conservation.

Ms. PETRACHENKO: We've looked at the organization, which, you know, has its origins in 1946, and the world was very, very different in 1946 than in 2009. That's why we come here with a reform agenda to change the focus of the IWC, to modernize it.

SOCOLOVSKY: Australia and other countries want the IWC to consider other threats like climate change and collisions with ships. It's also estimated that around 300,000 dolphins and whales are killed each year after being entangled in fishing nets.

(Soundbite of boat motor)

Unidentified People: (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Back on the inflatable boat, the passengers are awed by the sight of gigantic sperm whales with their tails thrust high above the water.

Mr. EMIL SASSA(ph): (Foreign language spoken)

SOCOLOVSKY: Frenchman Emil Sassa says he thinks it's a crime that whaling continues despite the 23-year-old ban. The IWC members have given themselves another year to reach some kind of agreement. If they fail, observers say the organization will likely fall apart.

For NPR News, I'm Jerome Socolovsky on Madeira.

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