ADELAIDE, Australia – The International Whaling Commission on Tuesday rejected a hotly debated proposal by Australia and New Zealand to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific after the plan failed to get the support of 75 percent of voting members.
The proposal was put to vote at a plenary session on the second day of the four-day IWC meeting. Japan and Norway obtained support from nine other IWC member states, mostly Caribbean, enabling them to block the proposal with 11 votes against the sanctuary.
Eighteen member states voted for the sanctuary, four abstained, and two were absent during the vote.
Those that rejected the proposal were Japan, Norway, Antigua and Barbuda, Denmark, Dominica, Grenada, Guinea, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and China.
The countries that supported the sanctuary were Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain and the United States.
Both supporters and opponents of the sanctuary, however, were disappointed with the result.
“It’s disappointing. We thought we (would get) three or four more votes,” said Masayuki Komatsu, Japan’s assistant IWC commissioner.
Komatsu blamed political pressure for the fewer-than-anticipated votes against the sanctuary, saying the Solomon Islands delegate, for example, left the meeting due to pressure from neighboring countries.
“We really need a . . . complete rejection of this,” he told Kyodo News.
Australian alternate commissioner David Kay said in an interview that Australia is “a little disappointed, not spectacularly so.”
“We tried and there’s a clear majority,” he said, adding that “it’s very difficult to get a three-quarters majority in any organization.”
But he voiced disappointment that the proposal was “lost on the Caribbean votes,” as the plan to set up a South Pacific sanctuary does not directly concern Caribbean states.
One would expect Caribbean island states to support South Pacific islanders, he said.
Japan contends that the sanctuary would ban catches of all whale species, including those that are abundant, and would affect Japan’s tradition of catching and eating whales.
But proponents said the sanctuary would extend the southern ocean sanctuary established in 1994 and would protect important breeding and feeding areas for whales. Many whale species have been depleted due to commercial whaling.
Komatsu called the proposal “absurd” during the deliberations, and said Japan received it with “bewilderment and resentment.”
He said the proposal had no scientific basis and asked Australia and New Zealand to withdraw it.
Australia said that while there is evidence that populations of some whale species have been increasing, their numbers remain as low as 10 percent of what they were before commercial whaling.
Britain called the proposal a “rational and realistic choice” and a precautionary approach in view of the lack of clear scientific data regarding actual whale population estimates.
To the surprise of Japanese officials, China also rejected the sanctuary, saying the sustainable use of whale resources is key to whale conservation efforts.
Nongovernmental organizations closely following the meeting accused Japan of dangling development assistance and using economic leverage to secure the votes of small developing countries.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare said in a statement the proposal “drowned in a sea of Japanese money.”
“This wasn’t a vote, it was an auction, and Japan was the winning bidder,” said Patrick Ramage, IFAW director of public affairs.
The commission also rejected by a vote of 18 to 12 Japan’s proposal to be allowed to catch 50 minke whales this year to “alleviate hardship” in Japan’s four main coastal whaling communities.
It is the 13th consecutive year that the proposal has been rejected.
The proposal failed to obtain the necessary three-quarters majority vote. Of the 32 votes cast, 12 member countries voted in favor and 18 against, while two abstained and two were absent during the voting.
The 41-member IWC, however, approved by a majority vote another Japanese resolution seeking a “commitment to work expeditiously to alleviate the distress caused by the cessation of minke whaling to the communities of Abashiri, Ayukawa, Wadaura and Taiji,” four whaling areas along the Pacific coast.