for National Geographic News
Pro-whaling nations may take control of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) this weekend for the first time since commercial whale hunting was banned 20 years ago.
Delegates from the 70-nation commission are gathering on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts for the IWC's annual meeting, which runs today through June 20 (St. Kitts and Nevis maps and facts).
Ever since the commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, Japan has worked tirelessly to restore the whale hunt. The Japanese government argues that whaling is central to Japanese culture.
This year antiwhaling activists fear Japan may finally get its way. The island nation, many believe, has recruited enough countries into the pro-whaling camp to begin chipping away at whale protections.
(See our report on last year's IWC meeting: "Commercial Whaling Ban HoldsFor Now" [June 24, 2005].)
This morning, however, Japan lost a vote on a proposal to remove from the meeting agenda discussion of small whales, dolphins, and porpoiseswhich conservationists consider some of the most endangered species in the whale family.
(Download dolphin wallpaper.)
Conservationists considered the vote30 for versus 32 against, with one abstentiona sign that Japan has yet to secure the majority it needs to begin whittling away at the commercial whaling ban.
But Japan may well have its majority before the meeting is out.
"The first vote was in keeping with the status quo," said Susan Lieberman, director of the Global Species Program for the conservation organization WWF, speaking from the St. Kitts meeting.
While the first vote is encouraging for the antiwhaling community, Lieberman says, several nations had yet to arrive at the meeting or pay their dues. At least two of those nations, she adds, are pro-whaling.
A majority of pro-whaling votes on the whaling commission will not overturn the ban. That requires a 75 percent majority. But the anti-whaling community fears a shifting tide.
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES