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In the past year, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) failed
In the past year, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) failed to lift a moratorium on commercial whaling in the world's oceans, which was imposed in 1986.

There were enough votes, but the qualified majority was not there despite heavy pressure from Japan, Norway and Iceland. These three countries insist on lifting the ban on the grounds that whale stocks have been restored and they can again be hunted commercially. The IWC may have to discuss the issue again this year.

In the meantime, Pacific whales have changed the melody of their mating calls. Oceanologists are stunned by this fact, which was first observed last year and now confirmed. This means a revolution in our understanding of whale behavior. Scientists believe that cow whales have grown sick and tired of the former melody, so the bulls have composed a new one.

But there is also a different theory. Maybe the whales have sensed the threat of a new war? An ominous atmosphere always breeds new sounds. People know very little about the life of whales, but they have learned to kill these huge ancient creatures quite successfully.

Ignoring the damage to its reputation, last November Japan sent five whale ships to the Antarctic with a declared goal of catching several hundred small finbacks, which are hunted every year. Initially the expedition also wanted to kill 50 humpbacks but on December 21, 2007 the Japanese government banned the hunting of those whales.

Tokyo claims that whaling is essential for scientific research; it helps scientists watch the size of whale stocks and their behavior, while their meat is sold to justify spending on scientific programs. But environmentalists are convinced that Japan's whaling has nothing to do with research. There are also no sound economic reasons for state-subsidized whaling, but policymakers and bureaucrats are under huge pressure from the lobby of whalers.

Grigory Tsedulko from the Russian IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) affiliate said on this issue: "The Japanese have always insisted that nobody can dictate to them how to behave, particularly in their territorial waters. For this reason, Tokyo considers it a matter of honor to return to whaling."

But what's the point of whaling now? There are no civilized reasons to justify this outdated practice. The alternatives for whale fat and ambergris have long been invented; whale meat was used mostly as fertilizer. The IWC still issues single quotas to ethnic minorities in the north of Russia and Alaska, for whom whaling is a national traditional trade, but they are whaling like their ancestors did in the past, without causing any ecological damage.

A record number of whales were killed in the 20th century. The industrial boom, emerging car industry and aviation swallowed 12,000 tons of whale fat a year as a lubricant. The perfume industry could not survive without spermaceti and ambergris. The fashion industry required whalebone for corsets, while East Asian cuisines were tirelessly inventing new meals from whale meat. From 1910 to 1979, 2,400,000 whales were killed in the world oceans. This unprecedented slaughter has put these 60 million-year old sea mammals on the brink of extinction.

The barbarous hunting was partially limited in 1946 when 18 countries set up an international commission to protect whales. The commission immediately imposed a ban on hunting feeding cows and their offspring of all species. At the same time, it banned fishing for baleen, grey and blue whales and later on humpbacks, finbacks and seiwals. But this was not enough to restore the whale stocks, and in 1986 commercial whaling was completely prohibited. Licenses were given only for catching individual whales for scientific purposes. Only Japan allowed itself to freely take advantage of this privilege because it treats whales as fish rather than the peak of the environmental pyramid in the world oceans.

We do not know the consequences of the worst-case scenario, but if whales completely disappear from the face of the Earth the chain of life will be broken. At any rate, whaling in the 21st century looks different from what it was in the 11th century when Basques caught the first whale to survive in the Bay of Biscay. Nor does it look as romantic as it did in the 19th century when Herman Melville wrote his famous novel Moby-Dick in 1851. He described, in particular, the terrible sinking of the Pequod, which was split in half by the wounded white whale. Likewise, there is no guarantee that humankind will not die from the hand of nature.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.


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