for National Geographic News
Japan's efforts to relax whaling restrictions were voted down this week at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Yet the possible return of commercial whaling across the world's oceans still worries conservationists.
At the IWC gathering in Ulsan, Korea, which ended today, Japan failed in its bid to lift a ban on commercial whaling. But IWC members agreed to meet again to reconsider the issue with a view to ending the 19-year moratorium.
In the wake this latest impasse, some groups have called for the IWC to be reformed.
Among those voicing criticism was Rune Frøvik, secretary of the High North Alliance, which represents fishers and whalers in Nordic countries. "It's just conflict all the time," he told the BBC. "They say they want to continue with a process, but in fact they are blocking progress."
New Zealand's conservation minister likened conflict within the IWC to a "cold war," with opposing sidesconservationists and whalerslocked in an ideological struggle.
But neutral nations say the way forward may be a long-proposed scheme whereby commercial whaling would be permitted, but only under strict rules.
Despite setbacks for pro-whaling nations, such as Japan and Norway, they managed to undermine further the IWC: The countries indicated they will press ahead with plans to increase the number of whales killed under the rubric of scientific research programs.
Japan signaled its intention to double its annual scientific catch of minke whales to about 900. It also aims to hunt 50 fin and humpback whalesspecies conservationists say are threatened.
The commission criticized those plans and shot down Japan's bid to allow communities on its northern Pacific coast to hunt 150 minke whales a year. It also rejected Japan's its push to abolish the whale sanctuary in what many refer to as the Southern Oceanthe Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Ocean regions that surround Antarctica.
The International Whaling Commission was formed in 1946 to regulate whaling and to conserve the world's largest living animals.
In 1982, with many whale populations close to extinction following centuries of exploitation, IWC member nations agreed to a ban on all commercial whaling.
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