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Eleven Nations Create Huge Pacific Whale Sanctuary

Eleven Nations Create Huge Pacific Whale Sanctuary

By Selwyn Manning - at the South Pacific Forum, Auckland, New Zealand.

Eleven Pacific Nations have sealed a pact creating a 28,520,000 square kilometre whale sanctuary in the Pacific. The unprecedented move delivers a substantial blow to pro-whaling nations like Japan and Iceland.

The Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Niue, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Australia and New Zealand have either declared their Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) as whale sanctuaries or are taking action to protect whales through national legislation.

The pact was formed today at the South Pacific Forum, currently underway in Auckland, New Zealand.

The move means Pacific Island nations will vote individually but as a pack against pro-whaling nations at future International Whaling Commission annual meetings.

Historically Japan has lobbied small economically vulnerable countries, specifically Caribbean nations, with large payoffs, disguised as aid, to sway their Whaling Commission votes. The tactic paid off in the past. However at this years International Whaling Commission annual meeting in Berlin, Japan, Iceland, and other pro-whaling nations were out-manoeuvred resulting in Japan's proposal for the resumption of whaling on Minke and Bryde's whales being rejected.

Today's agreement by South Pacific nations strengthens the world's eco-friendly bloc to reject the pro-whaling argument that commercial whaling is sustainable under the Revised Management Scheme (RMS).

The RMS is the lever Japan uses to hunt and slaughter Minke and Bryde's whales in international waters. For example, Japan proposed in Berlin the under the RMS it would take 150 minke and 150 Bryde's whales "from abundant stocks" and demonstrate its argument for sustainable commercial whaling. Its proposal included provision for international observers.

However, the 11 South Pacific nations today said eleven great whale species are known to occur in the South Pacific region. Almost all of these species have been commercially hunted in the region and as a consequence the blue, fin, right, humpback and sperm whales are the most severely depleted.

The anti-whaling-bloc has drawn applause from the World Wildlife Fund.

The WWF has long lobbied it is critical whale sanctuaries are not restricted to just one or two areas of the South Pacific. For example, Humpback whales breed in different places at different times.

And a thriving eco-tourism industry is the salve applied to those Pacific nations as a balance to Japan's cheque-book diplomacy.

The 28,000,000 square kilometre sanctuary creates a blueprint for whale conservation and the management of shared marine resources all over the world.

Dr. Susan Lieberman, Director of WWF-International's Species Programme said today: "WWF applauds the governments of the Pacific for making this commitment to guarantee the future of these special animals, the cultural traditions and values they embody, and the region's living marine resources.

"These sanctuaries, which WWF is recognising as a 'Gift to the Earth', will help ensure threatened whale populations recover," Lieberman said.

However, international whaling will continue in unprotected non-sanctuary areas of the world's oceans.

Iceland said on August 7 it intends to continue to hunt whales for 'scientific purposes'.

"For those countries that are bound by the moratorium, commercial whaling is not permitted. However, any member of the IWC has the undisputed right to conduct whaling for the purposes of scientific research. Iceland's whaling is therefore undisputedly legal," the Icelandic government said.

Iceland's Ministry of Fisheries announced on August 7 Iceland plans to hunt 38 minke whales for "scientific purposes" beginning almost immediately.

The New Zealand Government rejected Iceland's statement as "disingenuous".

Conservation Minister Chris Carter said: "There is no justification for any country to carry out a lethal whaling programme in the interests of science when modern non-lethal research techniques can generate all the information required by the International Whaling Commission's Scientific Committee.

"We strongly urge the Iceland Government to reconsider," Chris Carter said.

Legally speaking, commercial whaling by Iceland cannot yet take place. The International Whaling Commission reservation prevents Iceland from authorising commercial whaling until 2006.

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