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Lee Comments On Whale Sanctuary Articles

Conservation Minister's Comments On New Scientist Editorial And "Seeking Sanctuary" Article On Whaling In 4 August 2001 Edition


"I agree with ‘New Scientist’ (in its article and editorial of 4 August) that the IWC is deeply divided between the pro-whaling faction--essentially Japan, Norway and a growing group of client states--and a larger group that takes a more conservationist line.

But I do not believe that threatens the organisation's viability.

Ever since the IWC began to adopt a more conservationist position, in the face of collapsing whale populations, the whalers have been threatening to leave. Only Iceland and Canada have done so.

"Canada long ago ceased commercial whaling, and since Iceland quit the IWC in 1992, their whaling vessels have remained in port.

"It is, of course, entirely understandable under these circumstances that Iceland should consider rejoining the IWC.

"It is perhaps not surprising that it should try to do so this year with an objection to the moratorium on commercial whaling that the IWC approved in 1982, when Iceland was still a member (and did not object).

"The current balance of votes within the Commission may mean that major policy changes are difficult to implement, but this does not preclude co-operation amongst some members on a range of topics of importance to the global future for whales.

"The IWC’s Scientific Committee is widely regarded as the world’s best informed group of scientists on whales and dolphins.

"Extensive collaboration occurs on a range of issues affecting cetaceans, such as pollution, environmental effects of climate change, impacts of whale watching and the status and trends of various populations.

"I am pleased that New Scientist acknowledges that Japan’s scientific whaling is nothing of the sort. But attributing the blame to whales for decline in global fish stocks (which Japan’s scientific whaling purports to do) is akin to blaming woodpeckers for deforestation. Whale populations are notoriously difficult to estimate.

"As New Scientist correctly reported, the IWC’s Scientific Committee is unsure about the size of the world’s largest population of whales – the Southern Hemisphere minke.

"The 1992 estimate of 760,000 is officially cancelled, and a new estimate won’t be ready until 2004. Meanwhile the most recent data suggest a population of around 240,000.

"Setting safe annual catch quotas in the event of a resumption of whaling would be even more uncertain. Unfortunately the history of commercial whaling suggests that opportunities will be taken to falsify catch data.

"New Zealand and many other countries were disappointed that despite strong majority support for the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary proposal, the pro-whaling lobby was able to prevent its establishment.

"Commercial whaling is an activity that belongs to previous centuries, when most of the world’s great whale species were brought to the brink of extinction.

"In the South Pacific, our whale populations are but pitiful remnants, and much of the damage was done only fifty years ago, under IWC control.

"Japan, Norway and Iceland are really the only countries in the world who want to resume commercial whaling and reopen international trade.

"The rest of the world, and the entire Southern Hemisphere, sees a much brighter future in keeping whales alive. The global whale-watching industry now generates over NZ$2 billion annually, and involves over 80 countries.

"My own iwi people hold to a tradition that we were guided away from a storm and safely directed onto Aotearoa/New Zealand by a tohora (whale). As a result, my tribe ended up as the farthest flung Polynesian people of the Pacific. I believe it is appropriate to remember these timeless relationships as debate swirls around commercial activity and scientific data.

"As these magnificent creatures, who plied the Pacific for millions of years, sustained our people in the days of old, so too, do we have an obligation to sustain them at this time when their numbers have become so few. Now is not the time to meekly concede their future."

Ends

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