Whaling commission maintains moratorium on hunting

The members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on Monday informally agreed to maintain the moratorium on whale hunting without pressing forward with any new measures to protect cetaceans.

"Nobody wants to vote on anything," official delegates and representatives of environmental organizations told Deutsche Presse- Agentur dpa at the meeting in Santiago, the dpa reported.

The commission could not even achieve unanimity in their reaction to a scientific report on methods to measure whale populations.

The commission informally agreed not to consider votes on any measures and instead said it would try to reach a consensus by 2009, so that perhaps its members could vote on concrete proposals then.

The move appeared to confirm that none of the blocs at the conference had enough votes to change the status quo, despite technical studies that appeared to show whale populations have decreased in numbers.

Japanese delegate Joji Morishita in pressing for a lifting of the whaling ban said "many whale species and stocks are abundant, they are rising and recovering."

"The number of Minke whales (some 760,000) is high enough to allow a sustainable use," Morishita argued.

However, Japan is in the minority in seeking to lift the ban and will not seek to promote hunting in its coastline. A few native communities in Lapland and Russia are allowed to hunt whales for subsistance reasons.

The commission did not discuss the establishment of sanctuaries in the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

However, environmental activists said they would not stop pressing for further protections. Aimee Leslie, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), told dpa that the group will increase its efforts in Santiago.

"Twelve countries that favour hunting did not come this year. It is a great opportunity," she said.

"Administrative, financial and scientific aspects have an influence on the courses of action of the IWC," Leslie said.

On Monday, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet signed a decree to turn 5.3 million square kilometres of Chilean sea into a whale sanctuary, as had been requested by several environmental organizations, including Greenpeace.

Similar moves to set aside smaller sanctuaries have already been adopted by Brazil, Argentina and Costa Rica.

Environmental activists are seeking to turn Latin America into a great whaling sanctuary, ahead of a broader move by the IWC.

Although a moratorium on commercial whale hunting has been in place since 1986, Japan continues to hunt the marine mammals, and the whale population suffers further damage from marine pollution, fishing practices and climate change. Using a loophole in the ban, more than 1,000 whales are hunted annually in Japan for commercial use.

The 60th annual conference of the IWC is set to end Friday.

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