Panama City. The world’s whale body narrowly agreed Tuesday to extend whaling rights for indigenous peoples in the United States, Russia and the Caribbean but opposition mounted to a hunt in Greenland.
The International Whaling Commission is notoriously polarized over whaling expeditions by Japan and Norway. Aboriginal hunts have generally been less controversial as they are much smaller in scale and impact.
But at annual talks held in Panama City, proposals for new indigenous whaling quotas for the US state of Alaska and Russia’s far northeast hit a snag as they were presented in a package with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The small Caribbean nation kills humpback whales, which are renowned for their intelligence. Activists charge that the hunt uses cruel methods and is not truly aboriginal as it was started in the 19th century by white settlers.
The Commission voted 48-10 to authorize indigenous whaling for the next six years in the three countries, barely achieving the 75 percent needed to approve decisions.
It put off a vote on a separate bid by Denmark that looked set to fail. That proposal would allow indigenous people in Greenland to hunt up to 1,326 whales between 2013 and 2018, including 10 humpbacks a year.
Australia, a staunch opponent of Japan’s whaling near its waters, said that Denmark was reneging on promises made two years ago when the Commission agreed after intense debate to let Greenland resume the killing of humpbacks.
Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said that Denmark had promised to reduce the overall number of hunted whales due to the higher yield from humpbacks.
“I think it’s important to be quite clear here that the resolution in front of us is about abandoning a consensus position,” Burke said.
The US-based Animal Welfare Institute has reported that 77 percent of restaurants in Greenland serve whale, leading the advocacy group to charge that the island is conducting commercial rather than subsistence whaling.
Denmark’s envoy Ole Samsing said that Greenland had a longstanding “non-racial” policy of not prohibiting ethnic groups from eating whale. He also rejected charges that the hunt of the ocean mammals was inhumane.
“There are no rules and regulation within the IWC as to the humanity of the hunt in aboriginal society. If you can catch a whale with a baseball bat, then you are allowed to do that,” he said.
Samsing said that Greenland was spending heavily for more “decent” ways to hunt whales with cannons and grenades.
Australia, India and other nations that did not block the US, Russian and Caribbean package indicated that they would oppose Denmark’s proposal. A vote could be called later in the week-long talks.
Latin American nations are also strongly against Denmark’s bid after unsuccessfully trying to vote down whaling in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Brazil and Argentina are among Latin American countries that have been active in whale conservation. They attempted Monday to declare a whale no-kill sanctuary in the southern Atlantic, a proposal defeated by Japan and its supporters.
Saint Kitts and Nevis, a tiny Caribbean nation allied with Japan, furiously criticized Latin American countries that opposed whaling in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Some countries are trying to impose their will on a small vulnerable country,” delegate Daven Joseph said, charging that whaling opponents showed “colonialism rebirth” and “elements of racism.”
But Louise Mitchell Joseph, an environmentalist and daughter of a former prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that most residents did not eat whale meat and that it was a delicacy for a small niche.
She said that islanders had more economical ways to obtain protein and that whaling hurt tourism, the most vital industry for the Caribbean nation.
“It is a practice that we simply cannot afford as a country to continue. The whaling activities of a small community should not be allowed to have such devastating impact on the rest of society,” she said.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals criticized the European Union for supporting the package, saying in a statement that its members “had the power to stop this unnecessary slaughter of humpback whales.”
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will now have the right to kill up to 24 humpbacks between 2013 and 2018.
Russia’s Inuits and other indigenous people will be able to hunt up to 744 gray whales between 2013 and 2018, while native Alaskans will have the right to kill up to 336 bowhead whales over the same time period.