The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) has issued a stark warning about the “perfect storm” that could permanently damage the future survival of these marine mammals.

In launching its 100 Days to Save the Whale campaign, WDCS is highlighting the urgent need to protect whales from an industry that is increasingly aggressive in its approach to international conventions relating to the numbers and different species killed.

This wakeup call to the international community comes 100 days prior to the end of this year’s International Whaling Commission meeting in Alaska. More than any other meeting in recent history, the 2007 IWC conference will be crucial to whales’ future. Last year, pro-whaling countries gained the majority of votes at the IWC for the first time since the ban on commercial whaling was effected 20 years ago. This year, they are expected to use this majority to attack vital protection from commercial whaling and international trade in whale products.

“Whale conservation currently faces the biggest onslaught since the ban on commercial whaling was put in place,” says Sue Fisher, the WDCS’ U.S. policy director, who’s leading the anti-whaling and trade campaign. “Not only do pro-whaling countries want to lift the ban on whaling, but they also aim to lift restrictions on international trade in whale products—which, if allowed, would once again fuel an uncontrollable slaughter.”

In January, Japan proposed a review of the great whales currently protected from trade, including humpback, blue, fin and sperm whales. The Japanese proposal will be considered at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in the Netherlands, just days after the conclusion of the IWC. CITES regards the IWC as the authority on whale issues and follows its lead by banning trade in whales that are protected from whaling. This move by Japan is an attempt to break that relationship.

“These two meetings are providing a perfect storm for whales,” Fisher says. “Pro-whaling nations tipped the balance of power at the IWC last year, and they are hoping to build on that influence this year. The combination of the decisions at IWC and CITES this year could be devastating for whales for generations to come.

“Commercial markets for whale products once fueled a slaughter that saw many whale species pushed to near extinction,” she adds. “If international trade is permitted again, whale products could once more be in demand from industries all around the world. We simply cannot let it happen again.”

One country that is of particular importance in the balance of voting on whaling issues is Denmark. By voting in favor of whaling, Denmark is going against the policy of the EU, of which it is a member, and the majority of the Danish population who oppose whaling. WDCS is now calling for the international community to put pressure on Denmark to oppose any attempts to resume commercial whaling and international trade in whale products.

Although the recent fire aboard Japan’s massive factory ship, the Nisshin Maru (the only vessel in the fleet capable of processing and storing large quantities of meat at sea), may appear to have given the whales a small reprieve this year, Japan is expected to proceed with at least part of its North Pacific hunt this spring, using smaller local vessels. Japan is also expected to continue its campaign at IWC and CITES with renewed vigor.

Since 1986, all great whales have been protected from commercial exploitation by the IWC and CITES.

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Book Pick of the Day: The Humpback Whale: Help Save This Endangered Species!