for National Geographic News
A slim majority of nations on the International Whaling Commission voted Sunday in support of legalizing commercial whaling.
The vote33 for and 32 against, with one abstentionfell short of the three-quarters majority needed to overturn the 20-year ban on commercial whaling.
Nevertheless, "it certainly is a sea change for the commission, now that pro-whaling nations are in the majority," said Andrew Read, a marine biologist at the Duke University Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Read is on the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Recent changes in commission membership that led up to this vote will allow pro-whaling nations, led by Japan, to set the agenda of future meetings and steer the governing body away from whale conservation, he says.
The resolution was presented at the commission's annual meeting, held this year on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts (St. Kitts and Nevis map and facts). The document declared that the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling had been intended as a temporary measure and is no longer necessary.
"Many species and stocks of whales are abundant and sustainable whaling is possible," the motion read.
Pro-whaling nations argue the abundant whale populations are depleting fish stocks important to the livelihood of small island nations.
"That carries virtually no scientific credibility," Read said.
According to the marine biologist, there is no scientific evidence that increasing whale populations have led to a decline in the number of fish caught by commercial fleets.
Since the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, Japan has worked tirelessly to restore the whale hunt. The Japanese argue that whaling is central to the island nation's culture.
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