Sunday, April 4, 2010

Loopholes in the Whale Sanctuaries?

By David Urban

Over the last 72 years, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has established whale sanctuaries in order to protect the species from uncontrolled whaling. In 1938, the IWC established a sanctuary in the Antarctic. Forty-one years later the Indian Ocean Sanctuary was established and in 1994 the IWC adopted the Southern Ocean Sanctuary as another area in which commercial whaling is prohibited.

So why does whaling continue in these sanctuaries?

Well, according to some interpretations of the legal language describing the sanctuaries, whaling is still allowed for scientific research. This interpretation is used by several countries, including Norway and Japan, to continue whaling operations in protected waters.

For example, Japan runs a scientific program under the acronym of JARPA, which stands for JApanese whale Research Program in the Antarctic. Under JARPA, Japan kills over 1,000 whales annually in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary alone.

In 2007, the IWC attempted to clarify the issue and passed Resolution 2007-1. The resolution called for countries to narrow the scope of any whaling done under the scientific research claim, but it met with little success.

Activist groups, such as the Sea Sheppard Society, have protested against Japan and Norway for years over the whaling issue. The Sea Sheppard regularly patrols the Southern Whale Sanctuary looking for whalers and clashes between the Sea Sheppard and whalers have been filmed for the Animal Planet shows on the Discovery Channel.

The main body of the IWC still hopes to add more protections to the whale sanctuaries, and new resolutions with stronger language are being considered. But these resolutions must be approved by the majority of the 84 countries that are ICW members, and there is strong disagreement over the scope and regulation of whale sanctuaries.

David Urban is an avid hiker, backpacker, and environmentalist who has traveled extensively across the American Southwest. He is also the owner of Green Man T-Shirts, supplier of organic t-shirts featuring designs by artist Rob Juszak, which donates 25% of all profits to environmental groups.

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