IWC 2005 meeting opens – June 20th 2005

The first day of the 2005 meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was largely about majority control. Several small pro-whaling nations had joined the Commission at the last moment, so Japan came into the meeting expecting to control a simple majority of the membership. In anticipation, Japan had filed notice of its intent to remove several items from the provisional agenda – sanctuaries, conservation, whale killing methods, and whale watching. The first vote, called for by New Zealand, was over the issue of keeping sanctuaries on the agenda. Japan was defeated by a single vote, thanks to China`s support of the conservation side. China normally supports Japan at the IWC. At this point, Japan conceded the agenda issue. The next battle was fought over secret votes. Japan`s proposal to introduce secrecy was defeated, this time by a slightly wider margin. China supported Japan, but Denmark, which is a pro-whaling nation but prefers openness, opposed Japan. By mid afternoon on day one, it was clear that Japan had failed in its attempt to gain control over IWC proceedings. The relief felt among pro-whale conservation supporters was palpable. However, everyone understood that additional supporters of Japan could show up on day two, so tension remained.

When the meeting finally got around to its real business, sharp divisions emerged over Japan`s so called `scientific whaling` programme. Japan has announced its intention to double the number of whales it kills annually, a move which will substantially increase the amount of whale meat sold in Japanese markets. Japan also plans to start killing endangered humpback and fin whales. The proposals were condemned as `shameful` at a press conference held by Australia, New Zealand, Germany & the U.K. Australia and New Zealand expressed outrage at the proposal to kill humpback whales, party because humpback whale watching is flourishing. Japan dismissed the opposition at a counter press conference, stating that whale watching and whale killing can exist side by side. Japan also dismissed questions about the support it receives from numerous small nations which it provides aid to, stating that these nations are free to vote as they wish.

The issue of Japan`s votes for aid strategy looms large in the background of the meeting, which is being held in the South Korean port city of Ulsan.

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