IWC 2005: Japan thwarts the ban on commercial whaling in the name of "science."

The Shifting Balance of Power

The outcome of June's International Whaling Commission (IWC) annual meeting, held in Ulsan, South Korea, was different from that of previous years. On paper, the pro-whaling nations had a simple majority—and while this was not enough to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling, it could enable them to severely affect the meeting. The Animal Welfare Institute's Susan Tomiak and Tom Garrett, former IWC commissioner, were in attendance.

On opening day, it all came down to who showed up with their fees paid and credentials in order. The IWC Secretariat somberly announced seven pro-whaling nations whose delegates were without paperwork and two countries, including the anti-whaling India, whose delegates were absent. Yet anti-whalers breathed a sigh of relief—for once again, the whalers had been thwarted by their lackadaisical allies. Over the next few days, whaling nation delegates displayed remarkable delaying tactics while the representatives from various countries scurried to get their paperwork in order.

Throughout the week, the balance remained in favor of the whales and led to the defeat of successive Japanese attempts to kill more whales. These included the striking of critical items from the agenda such as killing methods, small cetaceans, whale watching and the conservation committee; abolishing the Southern Ocean Sanctuary; resuming Japanese coastal whaling; introducing a schedule amendment for the completion of the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) and lifting of the moratorium on commercial whaling.

Japanese Whalers Continue to Kill

The glow from these victories diminished when a representative of Japan formally introduced the country's intention to increase the number of whales killed for so-called scientific research. In addition to almost doubling the slaughter quota of minke whales to 935, the plan would allow the killing of 50 fin whales and 50 humpback whales each year within the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. A resolution condemning this proposal and urging the country not to proceed was successful, but since IWC resolutions are not binding, Japan's delegate brazenly announced that the slaughter would begin later this year.

The nefarious RMS was deferred until the last day amid rumors of two circulating resolutions. One came from the "Nordic Bloc" and urged completion of the RMS, while another from Ireland, Germany and South Africa countered the first by calling for more discussion and possible ministerial level involvement on the issue. The United States delegate was notably muted during these deliberations and the rest of the IWC meeting, except to defend the needs of aboriginal subsistence whalers and to suppress measures to address ocean noise. When the RMS was finally addressed on the floor, the counter resolution prevailed.

The meeting ended with a presentation by representatives from St. Kitts and Nevis, hosts of next year's meeting, and a vow from Japan to come back with a vengeance. As reported in the last AWI Quarterly, we will once again sponsor a "Stop Whaling!" bus tour of the East Coast before next year's meeting, urging the US government to be active in its opposition to any effort to resume commercial whaling.