It was interesting watching the enthusiasm of Japanese pro-whaling demonstrators outside the Tokyo court which was hearing charges against New Zealand anti-whaling campaigner Pete Bethune recently.

The key theme of their protests and a plank for the apparent outrage by Japanese who jostled for the chance to harangue two Bethune supporters from New Zealand, was that the opposition to whaling was racist, an affront to Japanese culture and an attack on Japan's national ideals.

That the activity of their whaling ships was actually occurring on New Zealand’s backyard, in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, and not the backyard of the loud Japanese chap with the megaphone, seemed to have escaped the pro-whaling Japanese. The slaughtering of whales offends New Zealand culture and is not a practice we support in our backyard. This belief deserves recognition from cultural proponents so intent on making this issue one based on nationalism.

While the Bethune court case has again raised the whaling debate, controversy over whaling is being reignited as the International Whaling Commission (IWC) starts its annual meeting in Morocco. This talks and any subsequent agreement are crucial to the preservation of whales, an issue of utmost importance to Whale Watch Kaikoura and our community.

Whale Watch Kaikoura is an internationally acclaimed venture that attracts 100,000 tourists a year to experience the magic of a close encounter with the giant sperm whale. There are other companies around the world who offer similar experiences to visitors who wish to view these gigantic, majestic creatures of the sea. These ventures, which rely on the whale, are the lifeblood of their communities. They provide jobs and give pleasure to millions of tourists each year.

Whales and Whale Watch have revived Kaikoura, providing pride and employment for our local people. Our community acknowledges those benefits and we have more at stake than most when it comes to the protection of whales. It is unacceptable to Whale Watch Kaikoura that Japan, Norway and Iceland slaughter whales – which provide joy to millions – to indulge so few.

There has been a ban on commercial whaling since 1986. Japan carries out whaling in the Southern Ocean by employing an IWC clause which allows it to avoid the international moratorium by accepting whaling for ``scientific'' purposes. The clause allows for whale meat to be disposed of in any way, including selling it commercially. And Norway, with a reservation against the moratorium, brazenly hunts whales commercially. . Leading up to the IWC meeting it is timely to remind ourselves of our Government’s policy. The essential elements are: 1. New Zealand is opposed to all commercial whaling. 2. It is opposed to so-called scientific whaling. 3. It is especially opposed to whaling in the Southern Ocean, in our part of the world. 4. It considers that the IWC should be focused on the conservation of whales, including the rebuilding of stocks decimated by the industrial whaling of the mid-20th century and on the threats that all whales currently face, such as by-catch, ship strike, ocean pollution and the effects of climate change.

This policy is strongly supported by Whale Watch Kaikoura and we ask our Government to maintain it at the IWC talks. We acknowledge the need for change within the IWC and with its treaty, which is fundamentally flawed.

Whale Watch Kaikoura supports the Government’s push to negotiate the removal of loopholes and the ability of whaling nations to opt out of conservation and management decisions adopted by the IWC. We support the attempt to change the focus of the IWC back towards conservation of whales. However, we understand in order to achieve these changes compromise may be required. What this compromise will entail is yet to be determined.

A proposal outlined recently by the IWC for this month’s meeting is largely disappointing. Under that plan Japan, Norway and Iceland will continue to conduct whaling for the next decade. However, there are key aspects in the IWC proposal that Whale Watch Kaikoura supports and we ask our Government to back these. They include: The retention of the commercial whaling moratorium, the closing of loopholes and the application of sanctions for breaches. No new countries be allowed to engage in whaling. The protection of mothers and calves. The restriction of international trade. The enforcement of measures to prevent IUU whaling. Whale Watch Kaikoura’s stance on whaling is simple. We want the commercialisation of whaling to stop and for the New Zealand Government to draw a line in the sand demanding a zero take of whales from the Southern Ocean.

It is abhorrent to Whale Watch that Japan, Norway and Iceland defy deafening international opposition to commercial whaling. Leading opponents include the United States, UK, Australia, Pacific islands and New Zealand. Negative aspects of the IWC proposal would see the current Japanese kill of approximately 500 whales a year in the Southern Ocean drop to 400 annually over the next five years and fall to 200 for each of the five years after that. The proposal is an attempt to get the three remaining whale killing nations to make at least an agreement to commit to restrictions.

New Zealand too has proposed a compromise, which is that our Government wants to see the elimination of whaling in the Southern Ocean. Foreign Minister Murray McCully, quite rightly, has stated this country’s vehement opposition to the IWC’s proposal. He remains determined, however, to find a diplomatic solution. New Zealand's IWC representative, Sir Geoffrey Palmer, says that compromise with pro-whaling nations is the only realistic route to take on the issue. He has concerns that failure to find a diplomatic solution could see the end of the IWC and any control over whaling nations.

The total whale catch by Japan, Norway and Iceland for 2009 was 1678. The 1986 moratorium has, in the main, allowed whale stocks to recover. Unfortunately under the IWC proposal to be discussed next month there will be only about 50 less whales killed in 2020 than last year.

Though Whale Watch Kaikoura is sensitive to the fears of Sir Geoffrey and our Government, now is the time to be strong. We urge our Government to hold firm and stop the slaughter of whales in the Southern Ocean.- Whale Watch Kaikora Chief Operating Officer Kauahi Ngapora

First published at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1006/S00015.htm