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Iceland Plans to Catch Hundreds of Large Whales

REYKJAVIK, Iceland, April 4, 2003 (ENS) - Whale conservationists around the world have condemned Iceland's proposal submitted this week to the International Whaling Commission to begin whaling under the convention's scientific research provisions.

The plan would allow Iceland to catch 100 fin whales, 50 sei whales and 100 northern minke whales each year. Both fin and sei whales are classified as endangered by IUCN, the World Conservation Union.

Icelandic Fisheries Minister Arni Matthiesen (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister) Although Iceland has declared that the "research proposal" is confidential, details were leaked in the Reykjavik newspaper "Morgunbladid." The paper quotes Fisheries Minister Arni Matthiesen as saying that the aim of the research is to investigate the cetaceans' diet, their distribution and numbers, and their interaction with other marine species. These are the same justifications used by Japan which takes almost 900 minke whales a year under the guise of scientific research.

Conservationists protest that information about all these subjects can be collected without killing the whales. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society based in the UK warns that the results of the diet studies will only be used, as they are in Japan, to support spurious scientific arguments justifying the culling of whales to protect fish stocks.

When Iceland rejoined the International Whaling Commission last year with a reservation against the ongoing moratorium on commercial whaling, Icelandic officials said the country's whalers would not start commercial whaling before 2006. Iceland was accepted back into the IWC, after two failed attempts and much controversy, with a one vote majority.

WWF, the conservation organization, today condemned Iceland's whaling proposal. "This is a needless proposal based on a lack of scientific necessity or legitimacy," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Programme for WWF International.

"Despite decades of protection, seven of the 13 great whale species remain endangered," Lieberman said. "WWF urges the Icelandic government to withdraw this plan. Iceland is an important eco-tourism destination for whale watching, which generates far more revenue for the people of Iceland than killing endangered whales."

Fin whale rises to the surface (Photo T. Martin courtesy Cetacea) The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) is also concerned that Iceland's decision to resume whaling will have a "disastrous impact not only on the whales that are targeted, but also on Iceland's prosperous whale watching industry that is dependent on whale loving European tourists."

WDCS says it will offer its 2003 Out of the Blue whale watching trip to Iceland this summer and encourages people to continue to visit Iceland to enjoy the amazing whale watching in Icelandic waters. "We hope that a clearly stated opposition by the world community, including tourists to Iceland, will force the government to reconsider its whaling plans," the organization said.

But opposition by the world community may not change Icelandic policy. Matthiesen has said that Japanese acceptance of Icelandic whale products is the most important factor in Iceland's proposed resumption of whaling.

WWF says that Iceland's home market is far too small to sell the meat from 250 large whales, although there are widespread reports that minke whale meat is regularly available in Iceland, caught as "by-catch" in fishermen's nets.

Under IWC rules, governments must submit plans for scientific research whaling in advance to the IWC's Scientific Committee for review and comment. This committee cannot authorize Iceland's whaling plans or deny them because the Whaling Convention allows governments to issue special permits for whaling for scientific research purposes without requiring IWC authorization.

Sei whale (Photo courtesy Cetacea) This is not the first time that Iceland has carried out a research whaling operation in defiance of the international community, WWF recalls. After the commercial whaling moratorium came into effect in 1986, Iceland accepted the moratorium but carried out four years of scientific whaling, from 1986 to 1989, catching up to 80 fin and up to 40 sei whales each year.

The latest population estimates for the North Atlantic populations of these species by the International Whaling Commission show there are an estimated 27,700 to 82,000 fin whales in the entire North Atlantic.

There are 6,100 to 17,700 sei whales and 21,600 to 31,400 northern minke whales in the Central North Atlantic.

Greenpeace, the international conservation organization that has fought whaling since it was founded in 1971, says today we are "perilously close to witnessing a return to large scale commercial whaling."

Norway continues its commercial whaling program in the North Atlantic, openly flouting the IWC's moratorium, Greenpeace points out. Japan hunts whales under the IWC scientific research provision whaling, but the whale meat is sold on the market for profit. In the past three years, Japan and Norway have increased the resources they devote to whaling, and both are pushing to lift the commercial whaling moratorium.

"Overturning the ban on whaling would be devastating to the world's whales, which are just beginning to recover from years of exploitation," Greenpeace says." Whales mature and breed slowly, and are jeopardized by human environmental threats, such as toxic pollution and climate change.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2003. All Rights Reserved.

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