FIRST the bluefin tuna fails to get new protection, next the whale is about to lose the protection it has had for more than forty years. If the reports are right the International Whaling Commission is planning at its next meeting in June to recommend a relaxation of the regulations that have proved effective, with a few exceptions, in reversing the downward spiral in whale stocks that was so evident in t»he 1960s. Japan has never fully accepted the moratorium that was introduced at that time and has sought exemptions for “scientific research” (how many whales do you need to kill for such research?). Iceland and Norway are the two other countries that argue for the freedom to kill whales as they wish.

The moratorium may not have been one hundred per cent effective but it has certainly acted as a deterrent against wholesale slaughter. Now the International Whaling Commission is apparently proposing that commercial whaling should again be permitted but under strict rules covering the size of catches. The validity of such an arrangement would depend on how closely it could be monitored. Even the existing controls have proved hard to impose and it seems unlikely that without considerable extra resources the Commission would be able to keep a watchful eye on the vast oceans where whales roam. International preservation of the natural environment is proving extremely difficult to maintain.