Tiny Tokelau declares 11th Pacific whale sanctuary

Tiny Tokelau declares 11th Pacific whale sanctuary
By RAY LILLEY, Associated Press Writer
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
(04-13) 23:28 PDT WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) -- The three-island territory of Tokelau declared itself a whale sanctuary Wednesday, adding a huge patch of sea to the total protected area of more than 7 million square miles that is off limits to hunting in the Pacific Ocean.
The isolated group of coral atolls with a land area of just 5 square miles (12 square kilometers) has outlawed whaling in its 116,000-square-mile (290,000-square-kilometer) exclusive economic ocean zone, spokesman Foua Toloa said.
Sanctuaries have only moral force, but are seen by supporters as helping support the recovery of decimated whale populations like the humpback and southern right whale.
Toloa made the announcement at a conservation meeting in New Zealand that condemned continued whale-hunting by countries such as Japan.
"Whales don't recognize national boundaries, and Tokelau would be remiss if we failed to support our Pacific island neighbors in the quest to help recovery of the whales in our region," Toloa said.
About 1,500 people live in Tokelau, a U.N. protectorate that remains a colony of New Zealand and lies about 300 miles (500 kilometers) north of Samoa.
Tokelau's new whale sanctuary takes the number of protected areas in the Pacific to 11, and together they cover some 7.2 million square miles (18 million square kilometers).
The territory's declaration came as whale researchers and conservationists began a meeting of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium in New Zealand. The grouping was formed by independent scientists to investigate the status of humpback and other whale species in the region.
The group noted that despite a global moratorium on commercial whaling being in force since 1986 and an international whale sanctuary established in 1994 in the oceans around Antarctica, more than 3,000 whales are hunted and killed for their meat each year.
Japan alone kills hundreds of whales each year in Antarctic waters.
Consortium member, Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, said whale sanctuaries send "very strong messages to the global community and particularly to the whaling nations ... that they are in a minority."
The sanctuaries also help endangered whale populations return to their pre-exploitation numbers, he said.
Sue Taei, co-chairwoman of the research group, said Tokelau was joining other Pacific nations in calling on whalers to respect sanctuaries, including the southern oceans' sanctuary where Japan hunts each year.
Baker said Japan was breaking two agreements by hunting whales in the southern oceans — contravening both the 1994 agreement to set up the sanctuary and the 1986 majority vote in the International Whaling Commission setting up the moratorium on commercial whaling.
Japan classes its annual hunt — mostly of nonendangered minke whales — as scientific whaling within the commission's rules, but opponents regard it as illegal commercial whaling under the guise of science.
The 11 Pacific nations and territories that have established whale sanctuaries within their ocean economic zones are: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Niue, Papa New Guinea, Samoa, Tokelau, American Samoa and Vanuatu.
Two nations, New Zealand and Tonga, and two territories, Guam and the Northern Marianas, have passed laws banning the taking of whales from their economic zones but have not declared sanctuary areas.
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