Japan says whales not 'sacred cows'

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The Independent Online
TOKYO - The battle of the whales opened in Kyoto yesterday, with Japan and Norway lobbying hard for a resumption of commercial whaling, and the United States and Britain refusing even to consider lifting the ban on whaling imposed in 1985, writes Terry McCarthy.

Delegates at the five-day meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) said the two sides were so far apart that little was likely to be resolved by the end of the week.

A parallel battle was staged outside the IWC meeting between Japanese right-wingers protesting Japan's right to catch whales, and enviromentalist groups, mostly from the West, which oppose outright the killing of the world's biggest mammals. Police said there were brief scuffles between pro-whalers and Greenpeace members outside the convention hall: Greenpeace was outnumbered and forced to retreat.

But the numbers are reversed in the International Whaling Commission. Of the 39 members, only Japan, Norway, Russia and Peru are strongly in favour of resuming some whaling, and they stand little chance of gaining a majority in the IWC, which was originally set up in 1946 to manage the whaling industry but is now more focused on preserving the whale species.

Japan's minister in charge of fisheries, Masami Tanabu, hit out strongly at the anti-whaling lobby, saying: 'It is a matter of grave concern that a number of countries, notably in the Western world, are taking the position of regarding the whale as the 'sacred cow' of the sea.' The Japanese are arguing for sustainable use of all marine resources, including whales, and accuse the West of hypocrisy for defending whales while continuing to eat cows, sheep and pigs.

A French proposal to create a permanent whale sanctuary in the seas around the Antarctic has particularly annoyed Japan, which currently kills about 300 whales a year in the Antarctic, allegedly for 'scientific research', although the meat is supplied directly to restaurants.

The French proposal is unlikely to be adopted this year, but pressure is mounting on the Norwegians and the Japanese from their whaling industries to leave the IWC altogether and set up their own pro-whaling association. Iceland withdrew from the IWC last year.