Business as usual

international resistance to Norway's whaling operations has been conspicuous by its absence in 1997. The current season has already proven to be the most productive for Norwegian whalers since 1992, the year in which Norway resumed commercial whaling defying the ban imposed by the International Whaling Commission ( iwc ) in 1986. The country has resisted global condemnation while gradually increasing its quota from 296 minke whales in 1993 to 580 this year.

A number of major environmental groups still consider Norway an outlaw. But fervid demonstrations have been curtailed. Greenpeace International, which had sent speedboats to block harpoon gunners in 1994, says that it has not given up the fight against minke whalers. James Gillies, spokesperson of the organisation, attributes the present lull in protest to paucity of resources.

Two of the largest environmental groups in Norway have declared that minke whale hunting is sustainable as their populations were robust enough to tolerate a limited hunt. "The anti-whalers have lost the numbers game and have to admit there are a lot of minke whales. Unless they see whales as human beings, they have to accept that whaling is really no worse than cod or herring fishing,' said Kaare Bryn, the Norwegian whaling commissioner.

"They are just big mountains of meat,' says Olav Olavsen, a whaler who has hunted 17 minke whales in the Barents Sea in current season. "A few years ago we were considered barbaric animals. But I think the worst of the protest storm has passed. Within three years, we will be exporting again,' he adds. His 21 metre-long vessel was scuttled by American protesters in 1992.

Although the us has been the most fervent critic of Norwegian whaling, international support for it has grown in the last three years. In June 1997, a Norwegian proposal to allow limited trade in minke whale products at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species ( cites ) in Harare, Zimbabwe, drew a majority of 57 countries in favour with 51 countries opposing it. The move could not pass as it failed to get a two-thirds majority. Ray Gambell is a British whale biologist and the executive secretary of the iwc . "It is the first time there has been a vote in Norway's favour, which is regarded as very significant,' he says.

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