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Whaling Commission is likely to keep ban on commercial whaling intact

Despite passing a resolution to overturn a 21-year moratorium on commercial whaling last year, the International Whaling Commission is unlikely to support it.

The ban was enacted in 1986 to protect several vulnerable species. Pro-whaling nations, including Japan, Norway and Iceland, argue that it can be lifted because whale populations have rebounded. Norway and Iceland do not recognize the ban and conduct commercial whaling.

A 75 percent majority would be necessary to end the moratorium, and the symbolic resolution passed at last year's meeting fell short of that mark. Also, several pro-moratorium members have been added to the 75-member commission since then.

Still, conservation advocates plan to watch the meeting carefully, and say whale-friendly nations need to push harder for stronger protection measures.

"Whales face more threats today than at any other time in history, with entanglements in fishing gear, pollution of the marine environment, ship strikes with high speed vessels, intense underwater noise and the looming threat of global change," said Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Even though the moratorium is expected to stand for now, anti- and pro-whaling factions said other important issues need to be addressed by the IWC, including a program in which Japan kills about 1,000 whales each year for scientific research and then sells the meat.

The program is nothing but a loophole that defies the moratorium and it should be better scrutinized, said Joel Reynolds with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Japan also would like to win "community whaling" status, which would give it quotas under provisions similar to those that allow some indigenous groups - such as Alaska natives - to hunt the mammals. Japan has tried and failed to get quotas for more than two decades, according to Joji Morishita, the alternate IWC commissioner for Japan.

Japan contends that commercial whaling can coincide with environmental interests if done properly. The IWC needs to focus on managing the hunting of plentiful species rather than squelching a practice that has existed for thousands of years, said Morishita.

"There's a misunderstanding that Japan wants free, uncontrolled whaling," he said. "It's not true. We would like to have managed, controlled whaling, with quotas and enforcement."

The meeting takes place Monday through Thursday.