Saving Whales

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2000:

ROME––Italy, France, and Monaco on November 25, 1999 jointly declared their Mediterranean territorial waters to be a whale sanctuary. All cetaceans are protected within the sanctuary, which extends from the Giens peninsula in France to the north of Sardinia and the south Tuscany coast in Italy.

Among the beneficiaries are about 2,000 fin whales plus 25,000 to 45,000 striped dolphins.

The Mediterranean whale sanctuary was created, after 10 years of negotiation, 40 days after the legislature of the German state of Schleswig Holstein voted to establish a whale sanctuary around the islands of Sylt and Amrum, within the Waddan Sea National Park. The Sylt-Amrum area is considered an important porpoise breeding habitat.

More whale and dolphin habitat was protected, along with rare deep sea coral reefs, when British High Court Justice Maurice Kay ruled that Britain had improperly restricted enforcement of the European Union “habitats directive” to territorial waters within 12 miles of the British coast. In fact, Kay judged, Britain must enforce the “habitats directive” to the extent of its 200-mile offshore economic use zone.

The European actions built political momentum for an Australian proposal that the International Whaling Commission should extend the existing Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary and Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by creating a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary as well. The sanctuaries would together ban all high seas whaling below the equator––at least on paper. As yet, there is no formal enforcement of the prohibition on whaling in any of the IWC-created sanctuaries, which in any event do not protect either minke whales or toothed whales except sperm whales.

Attempting to protect the sanctuary by direct action, the 30-member international crew of the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise on December 29 claimed to have prevented the Japanese whalers K y o and T o s hi from pursuing whales that day within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary by blocking their paths fore and aft with inflatable power boats.

Earlier, on December 22, Dutch crew member Frank Kamp reportedly forced the Japanese factory ship Nisshin to change course by jumping into the frigid sea in the ship’s path. Kamp then climbed briefly onto a harpooned whale whose remains were being pulled into the ship.

The Japanese whaling fleet intends to kill 440 minke whales for “research” within the sanctuary, which was declared by the International Whaling Commission in 1994.

Japanese vice minister for fisheries Hiroaki Kameya admitted to media in mid-November that recent trips to Guinea, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Trinidad, and Tobago were undertaken “to utilize overseas development aid as a practical means to increase the number of nations working in the IWC and World Trade Organization which support Japan’s claim” to a right to whale and fish without restriction in international waters.

Norway, which resumed commercial whaling in coastal waters in 1993, meanwhile issued the 36-vessel national whaling fleet a quota of 655 minke whales for the coming year. Norwegian whalers killed 589 of a 753-whale quota in 1999.

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