Magazine article Newsweek

So Much for Saving the Whales: Commercial Whaling Has Been Illegal throughout the World since 1986. but the Creatures Could Soon Find Themselves Back on the Menu. Why?

Magazine article Newsweek

So Much for Saving the Whales: Commercial Whaling Has Been Illegal throughout the World since 1986. but the Creatures Could Soon Find Themselves Back on the Menu. Why?

Article excerpt

Although no one is taking responsibility, it looks as if the '70s' comeback has not been limited to bell-bottomed characters on television and in movies or soul redux in music. On Feb. 26 of this year the Norwegian whaling vessel Villduen was destroyed in an explosion that sent it to the bottom of Fredrikstad Harbor in 30 minutes. (The captain escaped with burns and a broken leg.) Anti-whaling groups have been almost as obsessed with the Villduen as Ahab was with Moby: for years the vessel has sliced off the most expensive cuts of the minke whales it killed in the North Atlantic, dumped the 90 percent of the carcass it didn't want and repeated steps one and two until its hold was filled with whale meat. The waste seemed almost designed to infuriate the save-the-whales crowd. The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which has sunk nine whaling vessels, denied responsibility for the Villduen's demise, but added, "Nonetheless, we are pleased for the whales!"

Of all the environmental battles that greens thought had been won for good, "Save the Whales" trumps even reducing the erosion of the ozone layer. It was the issue that vaulted Greenpeace into the first ranks of enviro groups--its first action against a whaling ship came on June 16, 1975, off California--and the cause that became a bumper sticker long before anyone thought of saving a rain forest. But this week in Nairobi, at a meeting of the 151 nations that decide the rules for buying and selling endangered species, the whales could be unsaved. Norway and Japan, fed up with a ban they regard as scientifically suspect, have proposed allowing a commercial catch of minke whales, which has been banned since a 1986 global moratorium that also covers great whales like blues, finbacks, rights and sperm. Japan has proposed trade in the gray whales of the Eastern Pacific, a migratory population that cruises the California and Mexico coasts, drawing throngs of whale watchers, and whose commercial exploitation has been banned since 1949. "If people want to see the last decades of whale conservation wiped out in one vote," says biologist Gerry Leape of the National Environmental Trust, "this is it."

Money is powering this boat. The 1982 ban on whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission is so toothless that Norway and Japan have continued to hunt whales, especially minkes, which many consider a delicacy. Japan gets around the IWC ban by calling its hunt "scientific whaling" (which means killing up to 440 minkes each year in the Southern Ocean to determine, among other things, how many whales of what ages the Antarctic stock includes). Norway gets to ignore the ban because it filed an objection when the ban was first imposed; now Norway kills up to 753 minkes a year in the North Atlantic. The real obstacle to more extensive whaling is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), whose ban against buying and selling whale products is legally binding. Since Norway and Japan can consume only so much whale meat, if they cannot export it there's no economic incentive to up the kill. …

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