Japan, allies block proposal for South Atlantic whale sanctuary

Countries led by Japan have blocked a move to create a sanctuary for ‘endangered’ whales.

FILE: Killer whale. Picture: Dave Hurwitz/ Simon's Town Boat Company.

PORTOROZ - Countries led by Japan on Tuesday blocked a move by South American and African states to create a South Atlantic sanctuary for whales they say are endangered by hunting despite a global moratorium in force for 30 years.

The proposal brought by five African and South American countries would have needed the support of three quarters of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)'s 88 members.

In the event, 24 countries were opposed, including Japan.

Japan is one of a handful of countries including Norway and Iceland that continue to hunt whales by making use of a loophole in the moratorium allowing the practice of "scientific whaling", where carcasses are examined before the meat, prized by many Japanese as a delicacy, is eaten.

Japan says the point of examining the carcasses is to determine the age of dead whales so as to increase awareness of what is needed to help preserve "sustainable" whale numbers.

Tokyo and its pro-whaling allies had no immediate comment on Tuesday.

On Monday, Japanese envoy Joji Morishita said the IWC remained split between a majority backing a total whaling ban and countries "supporting sustainable utilisation".

"Unless we solve this issue, or find a way out of this stalemate, no issue will be actually discussed in a constructive manner," Morishita said.

Pro-sanctuary countries says "sustainable utilisation" is not good enough to protect endangered whale species.

"Brazil does not accept the practice (of scientific whaling). The (loophole) should not be there at all," Hermano Telles Ribeiro, the IWC envoy for Brazil said after the vote at the meeting held in a Slovenian seaside resort.

Ribeiro said it was high time to tighten the 70-year-old International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

"We are (now) 70 years beyond, so let's engage in conversations and seeā€¦ if there is common ground for the governance of the IWC."

The moratorium was introduced at the urging of environmentalists to preserve dwindling whale stocks in the world's oceans. The sanctuaries improved protection of whales from pollution and entanglement in fishing nets.

Scientists estimate that some 300,000 whales and dolphins die annually after being accidentally caught in fishing gear.

Environmentalists have said the South Atlantic is crucial to preserving whale diversity.

"This is an area that is critically important to a wide range of whale species," said Matt Collis of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).