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Whaling Commission Meeting Most Divisive To Date - 2002-05-24

The annual conference of the International Whaling Commission wound down Friday, with deep divisions remaining between pro-whaling nations and those who want to maintain protections on giant marine mammals. A vote allowing limited whaling for indigenous peoples was defeated for the second time.

The IWC gathering in the Japanese whaling town of Shimonoseki may be remembered as the group's most divisive meeting to date. It was marred by unprecedented bitterness between countries such as Japan, which want to lift the ban on commercial whaling, and those such as the United States, which support the ban.

Pro-whaling nations voted down a compromise Friday to renew limited whaling rights for native populations Russia and the United States. Moscow and Washington say the hunts allow small aboriginal groups to meet subsistence needs and have no commercial benefit.

Japan opposes what it calls the hypocrisy of those hunts, saying they take endangered species. Japan suffered a series of defeats at the five-day IWC meeting, including a bid to lift the 16-year ban on commercial whaling and a request to take 50 minke whales from its coastal waters.

John Bowler, a campaigner for environmental group Greenpeace, said Japan's position was a protest against anti-whaling nations. "It is quite easy to see that they have had a disastrous time here, and have become a little bit desperate and tried to use this blocking motion, whereby they said we will not give this aboriginal quota to Russia and the United States if they do not agree to our coastal quote for 50 minkes. The big difference is that you cannot equate what is termed an aboriginal subsistence quota against what the Japanese call coastal whaling, which is basically commercial whaling done in coastal waters," Mr. Bowler said.

There were two small victories Friday for proponents of aboriginal whaling. The IWC renewed a permit of the Makah American Indians of the U.S. Pacific Northwest to take five gray whales. Members also allowed the small Caribbean nation of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to double its annual quota of humpback whales to four.

Conservationists at the conference suffered a loss when proposals to create two whale sanctuaries in the southern Atlantic and southern Pacific were turned down. The meeting will also be remembered for a walkout by Iceland's delegation, which angrily left after its bid for full membership was denied. Iceland resigned from the group a decade ago in protest of the commission's anti-whaling stance.

Next year's IWC gathering will be in Berlin.