Magazine article Insight on the News

Rivals Spout off over the Whaling Ban

Magazine article Insight on the News

Rivals Spout off over the Whaling Ban

Article excerpt

Summary: Environmentalists are fuming over Norway's decision to resume commercial wholing in violation of a 6-year-old international ban. The vagueness of the law will make a resolution difficult, but, in light of a meeting in May of the international Whaling Commission, all sides are manning their warships.

By 3 in the afternoon on Dec. 26, night had already fallen on the Norwegian fishing village of Steine, some 150 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Walking alone along the coastline in the dark, Dwight Worker, an American agent of the Oceanic Research and Conservation Action Force, made his way silently to a dock where the 72-foot Norwegian whaling vessel Nybraena was berthed.

As two other ORCA Force reconnaissance agents waited in the nearby town of Stamsund and a volunteer Norwegian kept watch from a ridge a mile away, Worker slipped into the ship's engine room, disassembled the cooling pipes, opened the sea intake valves and let the freezing sea into the belly of the whaler. The Nybraena filled with water and drifted from the dock, sinking quickly Worker and the volunteer Norwegian escaped safely, with Worker departing immediately for the Netherlands. The two ORCA reconnaissance agents, including Capt. Paul Watson, the leader of the California-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, ORCA's parent group, embarked on the 930-mile drive on icy roads to Stockholm. Later, after going on to Amsterdam, Watson phoned the police on the Lofoten and Vesteralen islands in Norway and claimed responsibility for the attack.

The sinking of the Nybraena was only one battle in a wider war that environmentalists are waging on whaling countries -- a war that has heated up in light of the meeting of the International Whaling Commission, or IWC, on May 10-14 in Kyoto, Japan. "Our argument with Norway is not whether they can or cannot use whales," says Watson, dressed pirate-like in a white buccaneer shirt and black pants tucked into knee-high black leather boots. "It is that they are breaking international regulations in killing them. They should be abiding by the regulations of the [IWC], and they're not doing that. We're trying to get them to comply with the law"

The law that Watson champions is a 1982 ban by the 37-member whaling commission that prohibited commercial whaling from 1986 until 1990. The ban was extended until 1992 and again until at least through this year. Norway, along with Japan, Iceland, Peru and the Soviet Union, formally objected to the ban in 1986 and claimed that they were not legally bound by it. All but Norway and the Soviet Union relented in their opposition. Eventually Norway, too, bowing to international pressure, renounced whaling except when it could be justified for scientific research.

But at its 1992 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, the Scientific Committee of the IWC decided that "research" was merely an excuse for commercial whaling. Indeed, most of the whales killed for science ended up on plates in Japan rather than under microscopes. As the world's largest consumer of whale meat, Japan has provided a market for whaling nations, and its own hunt in the name of science in the most recent five-month season brought in 330 minke whales, which sell for up to $30,000 each.

The fate of the minke whale is of particular concern to both whaling nations and environmentalists. In 1992, the Scientific Committee cited 87,000 whales in the Northeast Atlantic and 760,000 in Antarctic waters. Norway took these findings as proof that a limited harvesting of minke whales was environmentally sound and said last year that it would resume commercial whaling this May. The decision sent environmentalists back to the trenches to plan new offensives. Sea Shepherd went after Norwegian whalers directly, and other groups, such as the Humane Society and the Earth Island Institute, used more traditional methods such as boycotts and petitions.

Nor are environmentalists shying away from a fight with Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, even though she was their greatest political ally until her government's position on commercial whaling reversed. …

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