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While Australia Leads for Whales, U.S. Lags

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Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States, together with actor Pierce Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, are asking supporters to take action to save whales -- again. Nearly a quarter century after the moratorium on commercial whaling took effect, the threat to whales worldwide has never been greater. Whaling, toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change are all factors in the endangerment of these creatures.

This week, on the eve of the 62nd meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, the government of Australia took a decisive step to protect whales, filing suit in the International Court of Justice against Japan's "scientific whaling" in the Southern Ocean. The suit seeks an injunction to bar Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean Whaling Sanctuary. In 2007, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an election pledge to ban whaling in the sanctuary, a 50-million-square-kilometer area surrounding the continent of Antarctica, where the IWC has banned all types of commercial whaling.

The lawsuit comes even as the member nations of the IWC are locked in debate over a compromise proposal, to be voted on at Agadir, that would allow the whaling nations to resume commercial whaling with the understanding that they abide by quotas.

Australia's filing claims that Japan has abused its right to conduct scientific research whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which provides for a scientific exemption. In 2008-09 Japan killed 1,004 whales, including 681 in the Southern Ocean. Since the moratorium came into effect, more than 33,000 whales have been killed under the article.

The lawsuit also asserts that Japan has breached its international obligations under the 1973 Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora by hunting whale species listed as endangered, and invokes Article 3 of the1992 Convention on Biological Diversity, claiming that Japanese whaling is causing harm beyond national jurisdiction in the Southern Ocean.

Unfortunately, in the view of nearly the entire American animal protection and environmental community, the United States government has abdicated its leadership role in the defense of whales, encouraging consideration of a compromise proposal and actively politicking for its adoption. The delegation head has even disparaged the Australian initiative in the International Court of Justice.

That's unfortunate, but perhaps understandable in light of recent history. The U.S. delegation's resolve has weakened over the last few years, while Australia has emerged as the strongest advocate of whale protection. It is leading a major initiative to sponsor joint non-lethal research, committing millions of dollars to the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, inviting Japan and other nations to participate in a program that uses modern, non-lethal, scientific methods to gain the information necessary to the conservation and management of cetacean species. Australia has also been a leader in the IWC's multilateral discussions of whaling during the last few years, and as a strong political and economic partner of Japan, has engaged in substantial bilateral talks on the matter.

We'll be asking our supporters to fund a national television advertising campaign to deliver a hard-hitting message to the Obama Administration, so be on the lookout for this critical appeal.

The Australians are willing to call Japanese whaling what it is -- a mockery of science and a crime against nature. The United States needs to get its bearings again on this issue and stand with our friends from Australia in the fight for these creatures.

This post originally appeared on Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.

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