Whaling Commission Renews Most Aboriginal Hunting Quotas

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Quotas Approved

Extensions of the aboriginal whale hunts in the U.S., Russia, and the Caribbean country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines were granted by consensus vote Tuesday.

Native peoples in Alaska and Russia were allocated a shared catch of up to 280 bowhead whales to be taken between now and 2012.

The Bequians of St. Vincent and the Grenadines can take up to 20 humpback whales during the same period.

Russian Inuit also received approval to take up to 140 gray whales a year, 5 of which are shared with the Makah in Washington State, whose hunt is currently held up in court.

Greenland's request is expected to be taken up again later this week, and observers believe a compromise that allows for some of the proposed expansion but not all is likely.

These approvals are the only IWC-sanctioned exceptions to a moratorium on commercial hunts the whaling body enacted in 1986.

Japan, Iceland, and Norway use exceptions to the ban, such as allowances for scientific research, to routinely kill about 2,000 whales each year. The meat is then allowed to be commercially sold. (Related: "Iceland Breaks Whale Hunt Ban, Kills Fin Whale" [October 23, 2006].)

Subsistence Harvest

George Pletnikoff is an Aleut—a Native American culture that lives in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska—as well as an oceans campaigner for the activist group Greenpeace.

He said Greenpeace, which is well known for its efforts to stop commercial and scientific whale hunts, neither supports nor opposes aboriginal subsistence hunts.

"We recognize the rights of indigenous people to harvest their traditional foods in a sustainable and customary fashion," he said.

Such aboriginal harvests, he added, are "a world of difference" from commercial hunts.

The Inupiat harvest, for example, provides food for the community and upholds vital cultural, spiritual, and physical activities.

He also noted that the harvests are sustainable, unlike those of most commercial practices.

One of the hang-ups for Greenland's bid, in fact, is an IWC scientific committee that evaluates the status of each population the aboriginal groups hunt.

The committee can only recommend the additional minke and bowhead harvest for one year and lacks enough data to make a recommendation on the humpback request. (Related: "Whale Birth Decline Tied to Global Warming, Study Says" [January 18, 2006].)

"The commission could in theory choose to ignore [the committee's advice], but it shouldn't," said Fisher, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "That's the point of having the committee."

Humane Hunt?

How the aboriginal groups kill whales is also a tricky issue a special IWC committee discusses each year, Fisher added.

Factors used to determine humaneness are how long it takes a whale to die once struck with a harpoon or shot with a rifle and the number of whales struck but not killed.

While there is no standard for whale kills, Fisher said Norwegians share their modern harpooning technology with Greenland's Inuit population.

Alaskan natives share their harpooning technology with their Russian counterparts, who often use automatic weapons.

"So there are efforts to improve the humaneness of the hunt," Fisher said, "and they could all go a lot further in my view without losing the integrity of the cultural tradition."

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