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A Sanctuary for Whales in the South Atlantic Has Been Blocked Again

Cetacean safe zone scrapped.

Ben Sullivan

Ben Sullivan

Image: Shutterstock

Whales, dolphins, and porpoises in the South Atlantic won't be getting a vast, eight-million square mile sanctuary after the whaling nations of Iceland, Japan, and Norway voted against the proposal at an international whaling meeting on Tuesday.

Although the proposal, held at the International Whaling Commission summit in Slovenia, received "yes" votes from 38 countries out of a total of 64, the motion needed a 75 percent majority to be successful. Headed up by Iceland, Japan, and Norway, 24 countries voted against the proposal, scrapping any hopes of the sanctuary coming to fruition. It has failed at every attempt at the IWC since 1998. The last attempt in 2014 received 69 percent of the vote.

Led by Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Gabon, and Uruguay, the proposal looked to create a South Atlantic sanctuary for cetacean species, a sanctuary that would "promote the biodiversity, conservation and non-lethal utilisation of whale resources in the South Atlantic Ocean."

According to the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA), in the 20th century around 2.9 million whales were killed worldwide. This represents the greatest hunt of all times in terms of biomass and it decimated whale stocks in all oceans. Approximately 71 percent of all whales killed were killed in the southern hemisphere, says WCA, and Fin, Sperm, Blue, Humpback, Sei, Right, and Minke Whales were by far the most hunted species in the Southern Ocean (South Atlantic and Antarctica.)

Image: South Atlantic Whales Sanctuary Management Plan

The proposed sanctuary would be bolted on to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in Antarctic waters. Together, the two sanctuaries would protect all species of whales that swim in Brazilian jurisdictional waters, alongside Argentina's and Uruguay's, plus the waters around the Southwest coast of Africa.

Greenpeace spokesperson John Friznell, who attended the meeting, said that the feeling is one of frustration.

"What is the most disappointing is that all these efforts are ultimately being undermined by IWC member countries who are thousands of miles away, not even in the southern hemisphere and some even on the other side of the world. Conversely, all members with territory in the proposed sanctuary, fully support it," he said. "With all the problems currently facing whale populations that have previously been devastated by commercial whaling, it is clear they need a protected zone where they will be able not just to survive, but to rebuild and thrive."

Read more: The Surprising Similarities Between Whales and Primates

Despite a 1985 ban on commercial whale hunting, Japan, Norway, and Iceland still continue. Japan says its whaling is for scientific research, but opponents argue this just a cover. Norway and Iceland continue whaling efforts in objection to the IWC moratorium. Although the commercial hunting of whales in Brazilian waters is illegal, WCA says that whales are still victims of other human activities such as bycatch, sound pollution, ship strikes, marine debris, entanglement, and climate change.

The countries in favour of the proposal, especially the consortium of Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Gabon, and Uruguay—countries which benefit from whale-watching tourism—will likely try again next year.

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