An idea raised by several South American countries to create a haven for whales in the South Atlantic was shot down Monday at the International Whaling Commission.
Though little whaling takes place in the zone, the plan was rejected by Japan, China, Norway, Russia and Iceland, plus several smaller countries that environmentalists accuse of pandering to Japan to keep aid.
"You can't really believe that Nauru or Tuvalu has an interest or has studied the sanctuary. They are voting because Japan tells them to," Jose Truda Palazzo, who spearheaded the proposal and now works at the Cetacean Conservation Center in Brazil, told the Agence France-Presse.
Japan and its allies contended that the move was simply unnecessary. The protected zone would have spanned the waters between South America and Africa south of the equator, touching the edges of an existing sanctuary in the Antarctic. If approved, it would have been the third active sanctuary created by the international commission since its founding, covering breeding grounds for all large whales in the South Atlantic. Activists argued that it would create a seamless safe zone for migrating whales.
The South Atlantic sanctuary was first suggested in 1999 but has been repeatedly blocked by whaling countries. Japan led other countries in a walkout over the proposed sanctuary last year, leaving the International Whaling Commission short of the quorum needed to even hold a vote.
Under commission rules, three-fourths of the countries represented in it had to agree to create the sanctuary. Thirty-nine voted in favor, but 21 votes against and two abstained.
The commission vote, taken at its annual meeting in Panama City, frustrated environmental groups.
“We are extremely disappointed that the whaling bloc has harpooned the sanctuary proposal despite support of a clear majority,” said Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Global Whale Program. He blamed “opposition led by Japan -- a country not even in this region.”
Japan argued that with an existing global moratorium on commercial whaling, creating a new sanctuary was like "building a roof on top of a roof." It has insisted that whaling is a culturally important practice and has continued to kill whales in Antarctic sanctuary waters using a loophole for research. Its objections were echoed by Norway and Iceland, which said the proposal wasn't scientifically justified.
Though Japan succeeded in batting away this plan, its whaling industry has suffered this year, falling short of its quotas. Last month, Japanese news media reported that three-fourths of whale meat offered for sale in Japan had gone unsold at auction, which activists say shows the Japanese appetite is shrinking.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A Franca Austral whale is spotted in the New Gulf near Puerto Piramides in Argentina in 2006. Credit: Juan Mabromata / Agence France-Presse