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We'd like to think of whaling as an outdated practice, largely frowned upon and done only by a handful of persistent nations around the world. And so it is, for the most part--whaling has declined dramatically over the last 20 years. But all that could change. The International Whaling Commission is meeting in Portugal, and the focus of the conference is likely to revolve around the increasingly contentious worldwide whaling ban that was adopted by the IWC in 1986. Nations that still actively engage in whaling, led by Japan, Norway, and Iceland, are leading the charge to keep whales off endangered species lists--and for a full on return to legal whaling.International Whaling Commission
The IWC is a strange body--first established in 1946 to oversee a sort of sustainable development for the whaling industry, it's since become overtly anti-whaling by majority. Members like the USA, the UK, and Australia are staunchly against any whaling at all, and continually push to uphold the 1986 moratorium on the practice.
But a number of nations, especially the aforementioned Japan, Norway, and Iceland, have continued to engage in whaling in defiance of the ban.
Whaling Ban Under Fire
This year, they'll once more push for the ban to be eased--and if they don't get their way, many fear they could defect from the commission altogether and continue whaling anyways. The conferences, which are held once a year, have been growing more and more heated, with no resolution in sight.
Which makes sense--it's a hardline issue where simple compromise just isn't possible. Since most species of whale were hunted to the brink of extinction, nations interested in the preservation of the species cannot yield, lest they endanger the very existence of entire whale species. On the other side, pro-whaling countries argue that the practice is in their heritage, and is their cultural right. Which is why some 40,000 whales have been killed since the ban was passed in 1986.
No Market for Whaling
What's most puzzling is the fact that whaling simply isn't commercially viable anymore--governments in Norway and Iceland subsidize the practice to make up for the declining markets for whale meet and rising costs of running the vessels. And Japan, which claims it hunts whales for science--and holds up the talks by refusing to cut its quotas--has spent $164 million supporting the industry since 1988.
One conservation group in attendance, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, plans on making the case for commercial whale watching as an economic alternative to whaling. All those concerned with the future of whaling--and with the welfare of whales--will be looking for diplomatic progress like this: the conference is one of the few chances groups have to reach an open dialogue with countries that continue to whale. If negotiations go poorly, pro-whaling countries could defect, and continue whaling unregulated.