WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Kerry on Monday introduced a bill to protect whales, sending a message as nations debate a compromise that critics say would end a moratorium on commerical whaling.
Kerry's bill, which is similar to a bill before the House of Representatives, would affirm US support for a 1986 ban by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on commercial whaling.
It would also call for research on whale habitats and look for ways to end harm and harassment of the ocean giants.
"Thousands of whales die each year from commercial whaling, ship strikes, and habitat disruption," said Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and has led legislation against global warming.
"We should be leading the effort to protect them," said Kerry, the Democratic Party's unsuccessful presidential candidate in 2004.
Negotiators are studying a proposal ahead of a June IWC meeting in Morocco that would let Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt whales openly despite the moratorium but reduce the catch "significantly" over 10 years.
The compromise comes amid a feud between Australia and Japan, which kills hundreds of whales in the Pacific and Antarctic oceans yearly using an IWC loophole that allows "lethal research" on the animals.
President Barack Obama's administration has not decided on the IWC proposal, saying it needs to see hard numbers indicating that fewer whales would die.
But environmentalists have been sharply critical of the plan, saying it demands little from whaling nations and offers no path forward after the 10-year period.
Patrick Ramage, the director of the whale program at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said the compromise "would undermine three decades of hard-won conservation victories."
He said that whale protection enjoyed support from both major US parties, noting that former president Ronald Reagan helped initiate the 1986 moratorium.
The congressional bill "is a clear call for a course correction at the IWC where US leadership really began with the Reagan administration," Ramage said.
"You would be hard-pressed to find any issue on which there's as clear a consensus across the country and across the political spectrum as conservation of the great whales," he said.
© AFP 2013