Nations Scheme to Lift Whaling Ban

AWI launched the Save the Whales campaign in 1971—and through hard work, diligence and a strong public support, a moratorium on commercial whaling was put into effect in 1986. Despite this significant achievement, however, some nations have continued to practice this cruel activity—including Norway, which whales through an objection to the ban, and Japan, which conducts "scientific research" whaling. Over the past decade, whaling nations have systematically attempted to overturn the moratorium by pushing the development of the Revised Management Scheme (RMS), which would lay out the rules for commercial whaling if the ban was lifted.

At the last International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, held in Sorrento, Italy, as pro-whaling nations made overt threats to leave the IWC altogether, Resolution 2004-6 was passed. This document reestablished a Working Group on the RMS to "proceed expeditiously toward the completion of both the drafting of text and technical details of the RMS...with the aim of having the results ready for consideration, including for possible adoption, at IWC57," to be held in Korea in June 2005. The first Working Group meeting was held in Borgholm, Sweden this past November, and the terms of reference and suggestions for RMS text were discussed at an open meeting. Unfortunately, under IWC rules, we cannot report on their content until it is made public at the meeting in Korea.

Subsequently, a Small Drafting Group convened to work on the actual RMS text in closed sessions. The 23-nation RMS Working Group includes five whaling nations, including the United States (where aboriginal subsistence whaling still occurs), six pro-whaling nations, five "shaky" nations, six anti-whaling nations and only one staunchly anti-RMS nation. Australia is the only country that refuses to negotiate the RMS on principle, and maintains it will never endorse an RMS. Other anti-whaling nations are negotiating, albeit reluctantly, for the strictest—and some might say impossible—terms. AWI was present in Sweden to rally support for a united stance against any move to introduce the RMS; our view will always be that we cannot both oppose commercial whaling and set the rules for its resumption. The Working Group will meet again in Copenhagen at the end of March to finalize the text.

There is no humane way to kill a whale; to do so, they would have to be rendered insensible to pain prior to slaughter. Whales are moving targets, struck from moving vessels, in a constantly shifting sea environment. There is also no way to reconcile the stress and suffering endured by hunted whales, especially during long pursuits that often last many hours. Furthermore, there is no regard for the welfare of "struck and lost" whales who likely endure the agony of a prolonged death.

Whales are still endangered and have not yet recovered to historic, pre-exploitation levels. Additionally, there is growing evidence that other human-caused impacts, including ship-strikes, noise and toxic pollution, are affecting whale populations. Whale meat has become increasingly dangerous to eat because of the bioaccumulation of toxic substances, and several whaling nations have issued health warnings for its consumption. Coincidently, demand for the meat has declined, as evidenced recently when Japan reintroduced it into hundreds of school lunch programs in Wakayama Province. Finally, the multi-million dollar whale-watching industry is proving far more lucrative than whale killing, and it is rapidly growing. Sadly, intransigence is keeping whaling alive in the majority of whaling nations, and the IWC is allowing it to thrive.

The US Government Position

At last year's IWC meeting, the United States and Japan, along with a few other countries tabled a proposal to have the RMS completed and ready for adoption at the next meeting. The proposal failed. This is a turnaround from the solid anti-whaling positions held by previous administrations. We are extremely concerned that the US delegation to the IWC will at best remain weak in the upcoming RMS negotiations, and even worse will collude with whaling nations towards a lifting of the moratorium. We are actively working with other groups to urge the US government to stand firm against commercial whaling.

Please write to President Bush asking him to support whales and oppose any scheme to permit commercial whaling. The United States should be a leader in ensuring a continuation of the moratorium for the conservation and protection of these unique creatures.

Write: President George W. Bush, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500; or by email: president@whitehouse.gov.