The 20-year-old moratorium on commercial hunting of the world's magnificent range of whale species once again faces a challenge, as the member nations of the International Whaling Commission gather at St. Kitts and Nevis in the West Indies. The annual meeting of the IWC will be held from June 16 to 20. Enlightened governments led by Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States have been campaigning to raise the level of protection for whales and dolphins. Credit must go to such opinion for the transformation-in-progress of the IWC from an agency for the regulation of whaling so that the industry could develop in an orderly way to a body that has whale conservation and science on its mind. Pro-conservation countries have to contend with the challenge that will be mounted by Japan, and some nations that have IWC votes but no interests in whaling, to the moratorium on commercial whaling. The attempts to get the ban lifted under the guise of adopting a Revised Management Scheme must not succeed. For one thing, the specialised committees on conservation and science have not yet submitted their reports on key questions. The IWC is in the process of assessing the stock of several whales, such as the Antarctic minke, the western north Pacific common minke, the southern hemisphere humpback, the blue, bowhead, right and gray whales all of them endangered. It is deplorable that Japan continues to flout the ban, using a loophole that permits killing for scientific experiments. Norway and Iceland have also killed whales, going against the voluntary moratorium.

Despite their breathtaking size, gentle behaviour, and exceptional intelligence, whales can remain vague in the public imagination because of their isolated habitat. Yet the stranding of a juvenile female northern bottlenose whale in the Thames in London some months ago led to an outpouring of affection and conservation-minded concern, which turned into grief at its death. This heart-warming Thoreauvian response reflects a realisation among people everywhere that humanity must protect flora and fauna from unsustainable pressures through binding conventions and treaties. Identifying safe, whale-protecting lanes for ocean-going vessels should be a priority area for the IWC; it is deeply distressing that many fin, right, sperm, and humpback whales among a total of 21 species have perished in ship strikes in recent years. The U.S. and Canada actively bind the shipping industry by law to protect whales by prescribing navigation rules and procedures in their waters a model eminently worth adopting everywhere. It would also help if all countries supported the proposals put forth by Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, and Argentina to establish sanctuaries in the south Pacific and south Atlantic. India has a history of supporting cetacean conservation and it must contribute actively at St. Kitts to strengthen the IWC agenda on preservation.