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Nature Body Suggests Iceland Wants Whales for Meat

Thu Aug 7, 2003

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iceland's decision to resume whaling for what it calls scientific purposes after a 14-year break is driven by commercial concerns, the conservation body WWF-International suggested on Thursday.

The program, aimed at catching 38 minke whales in August and September, is simply "an excuse to expand whaling," said the World Wide Fund for Nature which has led campaigning in the past two decades to save all whale species from extinction.

"This planned hunt lacks scientific necessity or legitimacy," the organization's Species Program Director Susan Lieberman said in a statement from WWF's Swiss headquarters.

"Iceland is a very important eco-tourism destination for whale watching, an activity which generates far more revenue... than killing whales."

Icelandic officials say the coming hunt is aimed at confirming that minke whales are not endangered and that there are enough of them to support controlled catch programs .

Iceland's Fisheries Ministry said on Wednesday the immediate hunt was part of a larger program to catch 100 minke whales, 100 fin whales and 50 sei whales in the next two years.

The State Department issued a statement saying it "deeply regrets and strongly opposes" Iceland's decision.

"The United States believes that lethal research on whales is not necessary, and that the needed scientific data can be obtained by well-established nonlethal means," it said.

Iceland, a prosperous North Atlantic nation of some 250,000 people which depends primarily on fish and fish products for its export revenues, has already said it will restart commercial whaling from 2006, despite a wide international ban.

But Lieberman said scientists working for the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which has sought to maintain a moratorium on catching whales since 1986, argued there was no need to kill whales to gather scientific data.

At a meeting in Berlin this year, a majority of the IWC rejected an Icelandic request for approval of the scientific whaling program which it is now about to launch.

Lieberman said information could be obtained harmlessly by taking tissue samples from live whales "but that kind of science provides no meat for Icelandic whalers to sell to consumers."

The main global market for whale meat is Japan, which itself carries out "scientific programs." But the trade is also driven by a growth in popularity of Japanese restaurants around the world.

Norway has long carried out commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC which was set up in 1946.

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