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ENVIRONMENT REPORT - June 27, 2003:  Whaling Commission Votes to Protect Whales - 2003-06-26

This is the VOA Special English Environment Report.

The International Whaling Commission has voted to increase efforts to protect whales. Members forcefully debated the resolution. Twenty-five members voted for it, twenty voted against it. The vote was held in Berlin on the first day of the commission's yearly meeting.

The measure calls for setting up a new protection committee within the whaling commission. The new group will offer guidelines on how to protect whales from threats. These include the danger created by hunters. Other threats include pollution, shipping activity and the use of sonar in the ocean. The sound produced by underwater radar can harm whales.

The new committee is also to seek ways to stop the accidental drowning of whales. This can happen when whales get caught in fishing equipment. The measure also expands the commission's interests to include other ocean mammals, like dolphins and porpoises. The resolution does not give the future committee any enforcement power.

Japan, Iceland and Norway led the opposition to the plan. They say it is an attempt to end whale hunting completely. The Japanese delegation said the decision could destroy the International Whaling Commission. Japan, Norway and Iceland all are threatening to boycott the advisory group. They argue that the new committee will be so deeply divided it will not perform effectively.

Australia, Britain, Mexico and the United States were among the supporters of the measure. An American delegate described the measure as good governance. And, he said it should have been established earlier.

The decision by the International Whaling Commission marks a change in the organization’s main purpose. It was set up in nineteen-forty-six to supervise the whale hunting industry. The commission would set limits on whale catches for members.

During the next forty years, however, whale populations were greatly reduced. This led the commission to ban almost all whale hunting. The ban has remained in effect since nineteen-eighty-six.

There are exceptions. Native communities are permitted to hunt whales for their own use. And, the commission permits some hunting for the stated purpose of scientific research.

This VOA Special English Environment Report was written by Caty Weaver.