AGADIR, Morocco — More than 200 scientists and experts Tuesday called on the International Whaling Commission to maintain its ban on commercial whaling to ensure the future of species depleted by industrial hunting.
"The IWC must not undermine the conservation achievements of the last few decades by again endorsing commercial whaling," they said in a petition.
"There is no evidence that any of the few populations and species known to be increasing have reached, or are anywhere near, the levels that might justify non-zero catch limits."
Meeting through Friday, the 88 members of the International Whaling Commission is debating a proposal, tabled by its chairmen, that would suspend the 24-year moratorium on commercial whaling in return for progressive cuts in the number of whales killed.
Japan, Norway and Iceland have used legal loopholes to flout the 1986 ban, harvesting more than 1,500 of the marine mammals in the 2008-2009 season alone.
The scientists, from about 30 countries, also called on IWC governments to reject a provision in the chair's proposal that would allow quota-based hunting in the Southern Ocean -- declared a whale sanctuary in 1994 -- over the next 10 years.
"We believe that to do so would be highly inappropriate and untimely and would again risk the future of the whales," said Mark Simmonds, International Director of Science for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
Japan currently invokes its right to conduct whaling for "scientific research" to catch minke whales in the nutrient-rich Antarctic waters.
Past experience has shown that commercial whaling does not lend itself easily to sustainable management, the scientists said.
The long-lived and slow-breeding mammals are difficult to monitor, and the whaling industry has evaded and obstructed efforts to ensure compliance with international regulations, they charged.
"Given the risks involved and that commercial whaling meets no essential human need, we call on all the IWC governments to abandon experiments in the lethal use of whales and instead refocus their efforts on the conservation of whale populations," they said.
The IWC meeting runs through Friday.
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