for National Geographic News
When delegates met in London earlier this month for a special closed-door meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), they tried something new—they talked about compromises.
Perhaps the biggest deal on the table is the reported possibility that Japan may give up whaling in the Southern Hemisphere in exchange for the sanctioning of limited whaling closer to home.
Though no formal talks took place on that subject, New Zealand whaling commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer said, "It's in the air, let's put it that way."
Previously, every IWC meeting in 15 years had ended the same way: a deadlocked struggle for the required three-quarters voting majority—and the death of up to 1,200 whales each season.
"It has been like a political, legal, and diplomatic torture chamber," said New Zealand whaling commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer. "It's been really intense in there and really, really unpleasant."
For years the IWC has been crippled by a teetering power balance between the anti-whaling nations, led by New Zealand and Australia, and the pro-whalers, led by Japan and an entourage of developing African, Asian, and Caribbean countries.
The most divisive issue is Japan's "scientific" whaling program, which is widely condemned as a thinly disguised commercial operation that has so far killed about 12,000 whales, despite a moratorium imposed in 1986.
"Scientific whaling is a blank check," Palmer said. "Any government can engage in it and can take an unlimited number of whales. That makes an absurdity of the whole treaty."
But London marked a turning point. Delegates from both sides supported a call for reform and a return to consensus.
"I think [this] is a new approach for the Japanese," Palmer said. "That is to say, an approach which is showing more flexibility, more of a disposition to talk in a diplomatic way."
Striking a Deal
The IWC was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which was signed in 1946 to help conserve whales and create a sustainable whaling industry.
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