NZ calls on Japan to leave humpbacks alone

New Zealand has renewed pleas at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for Japan to lift its threat to hunt humpback whales in the Antarctic.

A two-year deal negotiated by the IWC in 2007 for Japan to suspend its hunt for up to 50 humpbacks lapses this year.

New Zealand IWC commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer told the IWC annual meeting in Portugal this week new evidence about the endangered status of humpbacks in the South Pacific had strengthened the case for a permanent ban, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

While some humpback stocks were thriving, Sir Geoffrey said it was impossible to know whether Japanese harpoons would strike these whales, or the highly depleted Oceania stock.

He said New Zealand wanted to "respectfully urge" Japan to remove them from its Antarctic target list permanently.

Japanese representatives at the meeting refused to comment on the humpback quota. 

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