|OSLO - Environmentalists started the 2004 whale hunting season by criticizing a Norwegian trial system that replaces inspectors on ships with computerized sensors.|
Critics said the new \"blue boxes\" -- which are to be installed on 14 out of about 40 whaling boats this year -- can be too easily manipulated and will not record how long it takes for the huge sea mammals to die after they are harpooned.
\"Human surveillance is best,\" said Frode Pleym of Greenpeace. \"Any other system allows manipulation.\"
Norway resumed commercial hunts of minke whales in 1993, arguing that Atlantic stocks of the small species had recovered, despite a 1985 moratorium by the International Whaling Commission. Norwegians mostly eat minke whales fried as steaks.
Norway has set a quota of 670 whales for 2004 and estimates that there are more than 100,000 in the northeast Atlantic. Japan and Iceland also hunt minke whales.
Whale expert Egil Ole Oen, who developed the blue boxes, said the sensors, packed in tamper-proof portable computers, would record a variety of data, including the vessel\'s location, when harpoons are fired and when a carcass is winched aboard.
He rejected an international campaign launched by some 200 anti-whaling groups in March, who have called for a ban and say whales survive for two minutes on average after they are hit.
\"We know that at least 80 percent of the animals die or lose consciousness instantaneously,\" the associate professor at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science said.
\"It\'s like switching out the light.\"
Anti-whaling campaigners are planning a demonstration outside the Norwegian embassy in London on May 10.
Story by Alister Doyle
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE