Nations toughen scrutiny of Japan 'scientific' whaling

PORTOROZ, Slovenia (AFP) - Nations agreed on measures on Thursday to toughen scrutiny of future Japanese bids to kill whales in the name of scientific research, which critics say is a cover for commercial hunts.

A New Zealand resolution to tighten the review process was approved by 35 votes to 20, with five abstentions, on the closing day of the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) 65th meeting.

The issue has topped the controversy-laden agenda of the commission's first meeting since the UN's highest court ruled in March that Japan abused a scientific exemption to a 1986 commercial whaling ban.

Tokyo cancelled its 2014-15 Antarctic hunt after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling, but has said it intends to resume "research whaling" in 2015-16.

On Wednesday, Japan's representative to the commission, Joji Morishita, said his country would file a new "plan" by year's end.

Japan killed more than 250 minke whales in the Antarctic in the 2013-14 season and 103 the previous year.

It also conducts hunts in the name of science in the Northwest Pacific, where it killed 132 whales in 2013, and off the Japanese coast, where it caught 92.

While the commission's scientific committee weighs all proposals for scientific whaling, there is nothing preventing a nation from going ahead without its blessing.

Since 2008, Japan has been the only nation to issue "special permits" for research whaling. Iceland had also relied on the exemption in the past.

The New Zealand resolution drew heavily on findings by the ICJ that nations wishing to engage in whale research must show why killing is justified.

The document instructs the scientific committee to assess future bids within the strict parameters set out by the court, and "requests" that countries do not issue any research whaling permits until this is done.

Yes votes came from European countries, the UK, United States, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and New Zealand, among others, while countries against the resolution, besides Japan, included Russia, Cambodia, Colombia, Guinea and fellow whaling nation Iceland.

"We are delighted by this crucial victory for whales," said Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's global whales programme.

"This measure goes a long way in securing the full promise of the ICJ judgment which gives whales in Antarctica protection against slaughter for the first time in more than a century.

"We now urge Japan to call a permanent end to its illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean."

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