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IWC passes Brazil declaration to protect whales amid opposition

The plenary session of the International Whaling Commission opens in Florianopolis, Brazil, on Sept. 10, 2018. Source: AAP

The International Whaling Commission has voted to back a proposal to protect whales, despite staunch opposition.

Tempers flared at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on Thursday as it voted to back a Brazilian proposal which would safeguard whales in perpetuity, after a bitter debate.

The biennial meeting of the 89-nation body passed the host country's "Florianopolis Declaration" which sees whaling as no longer being a necessary economic activity.

The non-binding agreement was backed by 40 countries, with 27 pro-whaling states voting against.

"We now have an important instrument to guide our path," said Brazil's commissioner Hermano Ribiero. 

"Welcome to the future," said Nicolas Entrup of Swiss-based NGO OceanCare, calling the vote a "historical reorientation" of the organisation away from the lethal exploitation of whales.

The declaration -- meant to enshrine a common vision for the 72-year old body -- was rejected by pro-whaling states. They are instead backing a proposal put forward by Japan which envisages a "co-existence" between conservation and commercial whaling.

Antigua and Barbuda Commissioner Deven Joseph angrily dismissed the host country's resolution as "a non-binding, irresponsible, abnormal, inconsistent, deceptive and downright wrong resolution."

"We will never reach any sort of consensus," he told the meeting, decrying the lack of consultations which he said should have taken into account the views of pro-hunt states.

"They can take this organisation and send it to the abyss where whales go when they die!"

The IWC immediately began debating Japan's counter-proposal for the organisation. Entitled "The Way Forward," it envisages a twin-track future of conservation and commercial whaling which would be managed by a new "Sustainable Whaling Committee".

"Science is clear: there are certain species of whales whose population is healthy enough to be harvested sustainably," according to the Japanese proposal put forward by its acting commissioner Hideki Moronuki. Its commissioner Joji Morishita is currently the IWC chairman.

Masaaki Taniai (R), senior Japanese vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, is seen on a screen showing the plenary session
Masaaki Taniai (R), senior Japanese vice minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, is seen on a screen showing the plenary session
AAP

Japan currently observes an international moratorium on commercial whaling but exploits a loophole to kill hundreds of whales every year for "scientific purposes" as well as to sell the meat.

Norway and Iceland ignore the moratorium and are key supporters of Japan's bid to resume commercial whaling.

Countries on both sides of the whaling divide on Wednesday voted to renew quotas for limited whale hunts for indigenous communities in Alaska, Russia, Greenland and the Caribbean -- taking into account their cultural and subsistence needs.

'Big win for whales' 

Patrick Ramage, of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) said Thursday's declaration was "a big win for whales and a clear signal of intent; the majority of government members recognise that conservation and whale protection is the ‘way forward’, not unnecessary and cruel whale killing. 

"The IWC has evolved from an old whalers’ club to a forward-thinking conservation body. The whaling nations have not moved on but we urge them not to try to take this relevant and functioning 21st Century IWC backwards.

"We hope that Japan will take note, the majority do not share their vision of the future," said Ramage.

St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Caribbean country whose island of Bequia has a quota to take four whales a year under the aboriginal subsistence whaling agreement, backed Japan's proposal as "a step in the right direction."

It's commissioner Edwin Snagg said Japan had "opened the window" on change within the organisation, but anti-whaling nations were "slamming the door."

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