Vanuatu Whale Sanctuary Declared

Vanuatu has amended its Fisheries Act to declare its waters a marine mammal sanctuary with non-traditional hunting, harassing, or holding of the animals in captivity banned. Anyone found trying to import or export marine mammals or body parts without a government permit can be fined the equivalent of almost half a million U.S. dollars and imprisoned for two years. Egg-laying sea turtles have been granted similar protection. Customary harvesting by local tribes using traditional methods is exempt and exports of marine mammals to aquariums are still possible with a government permit.

This move strengthens the 28,520,000-square-kilometre South Pacific Whale Sanctuary declared in 2003 by Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Niue, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu. These countries have applied three times for formal recognition of the sanctuary by the International Whaling Commission, but each time Japan and its allies have prevented this by denying the sanctuary the necessary three-quarters majority vote at IWC meetings.

Japan has used development aid to buy the IWC votes of small Pacific countries like Solomon Islands and Tuvalu. Solomon Islands in particular has played a dubious role in this, first voting in favor of whaling at Japanese behest, then changing their vote after strong protests from Australia and New Zealand. In past, large numbers of dolphins were exported from the Solomon Islands to commercial aquariums in Mexico and elsewhere until the glare of publicity forced the suspension of those activities. Solomon Islands is currently the only large South Pacific country still without any systemic marine mammal protection legislation.

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