>Last week, as people across the globe celebrated Earth Day, Japan, Iceland, and Norway made a quiet bid to legalize commercial whaling. The three countries have long skirted an International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling by invoking various loopholes. As a more permanent solution, they have proposed a "peace plan" that would replace the moratorium with "sustainable catch limits that are substantially below present levels." The new limits, however, would legalize commercial whaling only for Japan, Iceland, and Norway -- all other nations would remain subject to the moratorium.
The IWC is an 88-member body established in 1946 under the terms of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Whales were initially valued as a source of oil and meat. In the 1970s and early '80s, once most countries had long since replaced whale oil with electricity and had lost their taste for whale meat, a global anti-whaling movement gained steam. The IWC passed an official moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, banning all hunting except for scientific study and certain indigenous groups. The moratorium was intended to let whale populations recover (some estimates say exploitation may have reduced numbers by 90 percent or more from original levels). But Monica Medina, U.S. Commissioner to the IWC, estimates that, thanks to scientific and indigenous loopholes, 35,000 whales have been hunted and killed since the moratorium was instated.