Attempt to create South Atlantic whale sanctuary rejected in IWC meeting
International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meeting closed after a tense final day when relations between opposing blocs came close to collapse. Latin American nations attempted to force a vote on a proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic.
Pro-whaling countries walked out, but eventually it was decided to shelve any vote until next year's meeting. Environment groups said the delays and wrangling meant important issues for whale conservation were neglected.
But a number of nations pledged new funding for research on small cetaceans, some of which are severely threatened.
Earlier in the meeting, governments agreed new regulations designed to prevent cash for votes scandals that have plagued the IWC in the past, and passed a resolution censuring the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society for putting safety at risk during its annual missions to counter Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.
But the sanctuary issue threatened to derail the entire session.
Whale species and populations from the Southern Atlantic oceanic basin were amongst the ones that suffered the most due to commercial whaling on a large scale, Roxana Schteinbarg, from the Argentina-based Institute for the Conservation of Whales, told delegates.
Fifty-four species live in the waters where the sanctuary is proposed - it is therefore appropriate that the protection of these species in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary be extended and complemented in the reproduction areas in the Atlantic Southern basin.
The 14-strong Buenos Aires bloc of nations knew it did not command the three-quarters majority needed to win, but remained determined to put it to the test.
We didn't come here to win the sanctuary on the vote, but we wanted to put it to a vote, we believe our conservation agenda cannot be put forward, be stressed, be highlighted, be defended in some issues without a vote, said Brazil's commissioner Marcus Henrique Paranagua.
Why not vote on things that are controversial?
The pro-whaling bloc said this could herald a return to the fractious days of the past, and walked out in an attempt to bring the meeting below the quorum needed for votes to count.
We fear that the fact of voting will probably damage the very good atmosphere we have established, and might trigger a landslide of many votes for next year which might disrupt the progress we have made, said Japan's alternate (or deputy) commissioner Joji Morishita.
This was not a hostile move to the Latin American countries - our effort is to try to save this organisation, and it turned out ok. The good atmosphere, he added, had survived a very difficult day.
Critics, however, said the pro-whaling countries had tried to hold the commission to ransom by their walkout.
The compromise eventually hammered out, after private discussions lasting nearly nine hours, asks countries to strive to reach consensus during the coming year. If that proves impossible, next year's meeting will start with a vote on the South Atlantic Sanctuary.