Scientists proposed in the journal Nature that one way to save whales is to allow people to hunt them. (The current approach is a “ban” on hunting, but 33,500 whales have been killed since it went into effect 25 years ago, so it’s not exactly working, reports Bruce Barcott at OnEarth.)

It sounds nuts, but there’s a catch: only so many whales could be hunted every year, and everyone could buy and sell the right to hunt them on a cap-and-trade-style market, like the kind that Europe uses to regulate its carbon emissions.

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The cool thing is, conservationists could buy “whale shares” too, and then just pocket them, preventing those whales from ever being hunted. It’s a neat idea, but it’s hard to imagine that an issue as contentious as whaling would find countries any more ready to agree on a common framework than they already are on, say, carbon emissions.

The basis for receiving a quota could become a heated point. If Japan, Norway, and Iceland received the largest quotas, they would essentially be rewarded for breaking the IWC’s current rules. If other IWC member nations (there are 89 of them) were awarded quotas, fishermen all over the world might be tempted to become whalers.

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Greenpeace says this is just another “attempt to legitimize commercial whaling.”