The main demand of anti-whaling nations has been that Japan must end — or place under international supervision – its “scientific” hunting programmes in the Southern Ocean. Critics say that, while legal under IWC rules, Japan’s research is little more than a cover for a return to commercial whaling, banned since 1986. For years, Japan has argued unsuccessfully that four coastal communities with a history of whaling should be allowed to hunt 150 minke whales annually for local consumption.
Although keen to see an end to scientific hunting, some anti-whaling countries have deep reservations about the proposed deal, and fundamental divisions remain. Some view it as the thin end of a wedge – for Japan as well as other countries potentially interested in commercial coastal whaling, such as South Korea.
Collapse of the talks this week would leave the regulation of whaling and the conservation of whales as fractured – and, many say, as dysfunctional — as it has been for the last two decades.
Also at this year’s gathering, Iceland will face criticism from anti-whaling groups for expanding its hunt of fin whales, listed as endangered. The first fin whales of the season, from an annual quota of 150, were taken last week. The meeting also is likely to see intense debate over Greenland’s renewed efforts to add humpback whales to the species already hunted by its indigenous Inuit communities.