UK Fisheries Minister calls for halt on whaling expansion
Plans to increase whaling activity have been roundly condemned by UK Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw and conservationists.Mr Bradshaw has expressed concern over suggestions that Norway, Iceland and Japan all appear to be cranking up whaling a notch in the run up to the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) set to take place in South Korea in June.
Commenting on a BBC news feature on Norwegian whaling broadcast on 9 May he said: "The BBC feature showed a harpooned minke whale which took at least two minutes to die.
"This demonstrates the extreme cruelty involved in whaling. "Norway claims that the vast majority of whales it hunts are killed outright, but the film footage highlighted how difficult it is to make an instantaneous kill even in seemingly perfect conditions.
"This is one of the reasons the UK is so strongly opposed to commercial and so-called scientific whaling."
Norway is not bound by the international moratorium on commercial whaling as it did not sign up to the ban when it was introduced in 1986.
It's stated aim is to kill 797 minke whales this year, compared with a self-awarded quota of 670 last year.
Meanwhile the Icelandic fleet aims to take 39 minke whales this year and 100 in 2006 as part of its scientific research programme.
Japan, too, is hinting at expansion to its scientific whaling programme. The country's current annual targets are 440 minke whales in the Antarctic and 160 minkes, 10 sperm, 50 Sei and 50 Bryde's in the North Pacific.
The Japanese now appear to be considering a new scientific whaling programme in the Antarctic that would target humpback and fin whales as well as the minkes.
If it goes ahead it would be the first to target larger species of great whale since commercial whaling was halted nearly 20 years ago.
Both fin and humpback whales are classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and little is known about their numbers.
Responding to reports on the Japanese and Icelandic proposals Mr Bradshaw added: "The UK, like many other countries, has previously stated that it is strongly opposed to Japan's and Iceland's existing lethal scientific whaling activities.
"We consider these programmes to be unnecessary, deeply flawed and of questionable scientific value, and we urge both countries to abandon them."
Wildlife campaign WWF has also reacted strongly against any planned increase in Japanese whaling.
"WWF vehemently opposes all Japanese "scientific" whaling," said a spokesman for the organisation's UK branch.
"The Japanese policy of "scientific" whaling has provided no significant scientific data and is nothing more than a plan designed to keep Japan's whaling fleet in business.
"It is an exploitation of a loophole in IWC policy that was developed many decades ago and is now utterly out of date.
"As far as speculation about Japan's potential increase in whale hunting is concerned, we have yet to see clear evidence that they are planning to do this. "If this is the case we will vehemently oppose it."
Meanwhile environmental pressure group Greenpeace has set up a 'whale embassy' in Ulsan, South Korea, the planned venue of next month's IWC meeting.
Greenpeace says it has uncovered plans for a whale meat processing plant in the city which it claims indicates a growing desire in South Korea for a return to commercial whaling.
Activists at the 'embassy' currently face eviction.
by Sam Bond