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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Scientific whaling unsustainable, report says

By environment reporter Sarah Clarke

A report commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has raised fresh concerns about Japan's scientific whaling program.

Japanese whalers capture a minke

The Japanese whaling fleet returned to port last month with a record haul of 863 whales from the Southern Ocean.

From next year, that catch will expand to include 50 humpback and 50 fin whales.

The IFAW report, which has been written by the University of Auckland's Professor Scott Baker, says humpback whale numbers are recovering.

But it says smaller breeding populations in the Pacific, which are likely to be targeted by the Japanese, cannot sustain the scientific whaling.

"South of New Zealand and Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia, these are Pacific islands where there are much smaller populations of humpback whales," Professor Baker said.

"Fiji, for example, may be the destination ... and the numbers there are vanishingly small."

Minke whales

The report also says minke whales, which are more abundant than humpbacks, should not be harvested.

Professor Baker says Japan's suggestion that there are around 750,000 minke whales is questionable.

"The evidence suggests it's maybe only a third of those numbers - that's still a large small population but that's still a very large uncertainty," he said.

Mick McIntyre, the director of IFAW, says his concern is that Japan will continue to increase its catch of humpback whales in years to come.

"The Japanese proposals continue to expand," he said.

"The issue we have is not only is it a problem that 50 whales that get killed in this program but in subsequent years they will no doubt want to increase those numbers.

"Even one whale killed out of those breeding populations would be a disaster."

Court case urged

Japan uses a loophole in the International Whaling Commission rules to undertake its whaling program, which it says is for scientific research.

The report says countries like Australia, which is leading the anti-whaling campaign, should now take their case to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Federal Environment Minister Ian Campbell says that avenue has already been explored.

"We never close off that option but I just reiterate we've looked very closely, as have New Zealand and other conservation-minded nations," he said.

"If we thought that taking legal action somewhere in a court could stop whaling, we would have done it by now.

"It's not the sort silver bullet, if it is or was we would use it."



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