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Japan's whaling bid frustrated

June 24, 2005 By David Cyranoski This article courtesy of Nature News.

Research hunting may increase despite defeat at commission.

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Conservationists at the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting won a hollow victory in Ulsan, Korea, this week. While pro-whaling initiatives failed to gain support from the member nations, Japan may nevertheless increase its research whaling activities.

During the 20-24 June meeting, Japan failed in its bid to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling. This was widely expected, given that Japan required three quarters of the votes from the 62 member countries to do so. But observers had anticipated that Japan might be able to command a simple majority. This would have given it leverage to control the commission's activities and get approval for many of its own whaling initiatives.

In the end, however, with a handful of countries not showing, the plenary voted against several Japanese initiatives. A proposal to begin limited coastal whaling along Japanese shores was defeated by 29 to 26; a bid to have the ballots conducted in secret rather than in public failed; and efforts to get rid of a whale sanctuary in the Antarctic also came to nothing.

The most controversial item on the agenda - a Japanese proposal to expand its 'research whaling programme' by doubling its take of Minke whales and beginning to take fin and humpback whales - was condemned. But the vote, while politically significant, is not binding. Some Japanese delegates told Nature they plan to go ahead with the increased take.

Whaling in disguise

The Japanese delegation feels frustrated that the science in its proposal was not recognized, says Dan Goodman, a spokesperson for the Institute of Cetacean Research in Tokyo. Goodman says the increased whale catch is necessary to meet sample size requirements for research projects. The sample size for its previous whaling programme - about 400 whales per year - was designed to measure parameters such as pregnancy rates, age at sexual maturity and blubber thickness, he says. The programme starting this autumn aims to detect changes in these parameters over a six-year period. To do this, their statistical analyses indicate that they need sample sizes of between 700 and 1,000 whales per year.

But these arguments left most delegates unconvinced. Critics claim that Japan's research programme is simply commercial whaling in disguise. Whales killed for research purposes are sold for food after being studied.

Japan has long campaigned to educate locals and foreigners about the importance of whale meat. In 2000, when the International Whaling Commission met in Australia, the Japanese Whaling Association ran an advertising campaign in which it said that whale meat is as integral to the Japanese diet as meat pies are to the Australian diet. While much of Japan's population has not eaten whale meat in decades, a hamburger chain in Hokkaido has started selling whale burgers.


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