Whale sanctuary time extended

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THE INDIAN Ocean is to be a whale sanctuary for the next 10 years, the International Whaling Commission decided at its annual meeting in Glasgow yesterday.

In 1979, the ocean was designated off-limits to whalers for a decade. When that expired in 1989, the commission decided to extend the sanctuary for three years, and now the 28 nations gathered in Scotland have decided it should last until 2002.

French plans for a much larger sanctuary around the Antarctic are to be considered at next year's commission meeting in Tokyo.

Outlawing whaling in the Indian Ocean has no practical effect as no commercial whaling is allowed anywhere. A moratorium, first voted for by the commission in 1982, came fully into effect in 1988, but it is not watertight. Japan kills 300 minke whales in Antarctic waters each year as part of a research programme that also provides expensive whalemeat.

Norway and Iceland, the commission's two other pro-whaling nations, have also carried out 'scientific' whaling on a smaller scale in the North Atlantic.

Now Norway plans to resume scientific whaling this year, taking over 100 minkes, and full-scale commercial whaling next year. It can do so without falling foul of the commission's rules because it formally objected to the moratorium.

Iceland has not yet announced any plans to resume commercial whaling, but it formally resigned from the commission this week, and Norway may follow. The two nations are forming the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, which will hold its first meeting in the Faroe Islands in September. The Faroes and Greenland are also members and Japan, Canada and Russia are likely to attend as observers. But the new commission will initially concern itself with the hunting of seals and smaller whales - such as pilot whales - rather than larger species such as the minke.

The commission's meeting ends today with a key debate on a revised management procedure that would establish the conditions under which countries could resume whaling, ending the moratorium.

Letters, page 18