The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Santiago, Chile concluded on June 27 with confusion and uncertainty over the future of the 60-year-old body and, more importantly, the fate of the world's whales. Key to this uncertainly was the actions of the United States, which holds the current chairmanship of the IWC. The nation that was instrumental in helping to pass the international ban on commercial whaling may now be responsible for its return.
Ahead of the meeting, concurrent resolutions were introduced in both chambers of the US Congress, calling for strong leadership at the meeting, specifically for the US delegation to uphold the commercial whaling moratorium, work to close the loopholes that allow special permit whaling and continued commercial whaling despite the moratorium, oppose the creation of any new categories of whaling, and push for a whale conservation agenda. The House version passed unanimously on June 18, sending a clear message to the US delegation that was further bolstered by a congressional hearing on the issue.
At the hearing, held by the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, William Hogarth, chair of the entire IWC and presidentially appointed US Commissioner, was grilled about the incongruity of these roles—pushing to "fix" the IWC as Chair while working under a stated mandate to fulfill the long-held US position of opposition to a resumption of commercial whaling. Sadly, in the end, the "fix" role won out, and the US administration's true colors on the lack of importance it places on whale conservation came embarrassingly to light.
The die was cast over a year ago when the term "impasse" was first articulated to describe the IWC. In the intervening months—with growing divisiveness among its 81 member nations, an escalating body count, and threats from whalers to kill more species and more animals—rumblings from Hogarth that the body was dysfunctional were warmly received by the Commission and sadly received by some observers. A March intercessional meeting in London, presided over by international "experts" on conflict resolution, further polarized the body and convinced any wavering members that the IWC was in need of salvation. Like several previous IWC chairs wishing to leave their mark, Hogarth made an offer: an 8-step plan to "move the IWC forward" by developing a compromise "package," crafted without public participation or scrutiny, for presentation and agreement at the 2009 IWC meeting.
Hogarth admits that there "will be no outright winners or losers" in his package. However, whales will certainly lose, for if the package is to be agreed upon by the whaling nations and their allies, then it must include some measure of commercial whaling. Hogarth has consistently justified his attempts at compromise by stating that something must be done to reduce the number of whales being killed. While the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) agrees that the number must be reduced, this package is not the answer. It will instead result in the sanctioned killing of more whales, not less, and it will set dangerous precedents by rewarding those who abuse an international convention, and promote international negotiations behind closed doors.
Ironically, the US-led effort of compromise comes at a time when Japan's whaling industry is suffering economic collapse, only surviving because of substantial government subsidies. With a declining demand, tons of whale products remain on ice as the government struggles to find a market—beyond force feeding the meat to school children—that does not exist. More Japanese are also learning of the high level of contaminants found in cetacean meat and are growing increasingly incensed by the government's misuse of their tax dollars to keep a sinking industry afloat.
Instead of letting the coffin close on this despicable industry, the US is giving it new life by attempting to assuage Japan and prevent it from following through on its baseless threats to leave the IWC. Sadly, many countries have been duped into subscribing to this plan instead of boldly opposing the actions of these rogue whaling nations by using all domestic and international tools available to compel them to embrace the will of the majority. Finally, instead of demanding the modernization of the IWC to make it a viable conservation body in line with other international treaties, members are being steered by the US down a dangerous path of compromise that will only further exacerbate the threats to whales and undermine public will that demands their protection, not persecution.
Two days of "IWC future" discussions ahead of the plenary led to the creation of two working groups: one to develop the chair's package and another to focus on procedure. A private Commissioner's meeting held the afternoon before the plenary reportedly continued these discussions and a series of "elements" for the package began to emerge.
After the pomp of the opening ceremony had died down on the first day, the meeting started with an unusual air of conviviality. Without the hostility and antagonism usually displayed at IWC meetings, coupled with the preceding secret discussions about the future of the body, suspicions were soon raised that this would be no ordinary meeting.
It was not. No resolutions were proposed during the five days, and only a single vote was held on a proposed schedule amendment request by Denmark for a quota of 10 humpback whales for aboriginal subsistence whalers in Greenland. The country's natives already have quotas to kill minke, bowhead and fin whales, and a recent explosive report by the World Society for the Protection of Animals found that up to a quarter of the meat derived from killing these whales, supposedly for subsistence use, actually ends up in supermarkets for commercial sale.
This ridiculous request was therefore rightly opposed by all the staunch conservation-minded countries, except the United States, which voted alongside Japan, Norway, Iceland and the other pro-whaling bloc. Fortunately, the proposal needed a three-quarters majority to pass, so it failed—but it served to make the United States' loyalties clear. After the Danish vote, the meeting broke down into the usual squabbles and irrelevant oratories typical of IWC meetings. The final day saw some resumption of cordiality, but after a few hours, the meeting adjourned and the "elements" working group reconvened in secret. Some believe the covert discussions on the package are doomed to failure, as were previous efforts. Nevertheless, the coming year will be a difficult time for whales, with of course, more being killed while the IWC tries to "fix" itself.
CHILE SUPPORTS THE WHALES
On the eve of the opening day of the IWC, AWI and The Whaleman Foundation took the Save the Whales Again! campaign to the streets of Santiago. Over 1,000 activists gathered for an outdoor rally led by Chilean actress Leonor Varela, who called for an end to whaling worldwide and encouraged the creation of a global whale sanctuary. Varela was joined by Skye Bortoli of Australia's Teens Against Whaling, and Surfers 4 Cetaceans professional surfers Ramon Navarro and Dave Rastovich.
Rastovich spoke about the need to protect dolphins and other small cetaceans, and the group unveiled an impressive visual petition featuring photographs of thousands of individuals encountered on their global crusade. AWI also distributed Save the Whales Again! t-shirts, and the crowd created a gigantic human whale, choreographed by aerial artist John Quigley, based on a design by Chilean artist Francisco Letelier. Later, AWI hosted a VIP reception, where delegates and observers were able to hear a heartfelt speech about Chile's dedication to cetacean conservation from the guest of honor, Chilean Minister of the Environment Ana Lya Uriarte Rodriguez. The next day, she announced Chilean President Michelle Bachelet was to dedicate all the country's waters as a whaling-free sanctuary.
Attendees were also entertained by several short films, including Jeff Pantukhoff's The Minke Whale, a film showing rare close-up footage of these much-maligned creatures. Surfers 4 Cetaceans showed Minds in the Water, a photo montage of images from its visual petition. Finally, the Chilean group Centro de Conservacion Cetacea and the Oceanic Preservation Society presented an excerpt from a visually disturbing film directed by famous photographer Louie Psihoyos. The movie, which will be released next year, includes recent undercover footage of whalers slaughtering dolphins in Taiji, Japan at the annual drive hunts.
AWI Quarterly readers may recall that in September 2007, five members of the northwest Washington state Makah tribe brutally killed a gray whale in violation of federal law—with the animal taking over 10 hours to die after being struck by four harpoons and 16 bullets. Ultimately, they were all charged with violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and Whaling Convention Act—and on June 30, after months of legal wrangling, the members were finally sentenced by Judge J. Kelley Arnold.
Unfortunately, some charges were dismissed, and the three defendants who pled guilty to killing the whale in violation of the MMPA were sentenced to two years of probation, assessed a minimal fine, and given mandatory community service; a mere slap on the wrist given the severity of their crime and the suffering of the whale caused by their illegal act. To make matters worse, the judge agreed with the prosecution that they should fulfill their community service by participating in marine mammal counts in the Pacific Ocean near the Makah's Neah Bay reservation. This sentence effectively amounts to a few weeks of whale watching.
For the two defendants convicted during a bench trial, both deemed to be leaders of the hunt, the penalty was more severe. Wayne Johnson, a former Makah whaling commissioner, will spend the next five months in federal prison, followed by probation and community service. Andy Noel was sentenced 90 days in prison, in addition to probation and community service. Considering the severity of their crimes, the penalties imposed on the five defendants should have been far more severe. Even within tribal court, despite promises of swift and just prosecution, the defendants got off easy. After the judge determined that an impartial tribal jury could not be empanelled, he deferred prosecution pending the defendants' compliance with the penalties imposed by the federal court.
Disturbingly, prior to sentencing, two defendants reported that the Makah Tribal Council was aware of and had approved the illegal hunt. According to defendant Theron Parker, then tribal chairman Ben Johnson, when asked about the possibility of going whaling, said "go ahead and get one." He also stated, "I think it's time to go fishing," referring to whaling, causing the entire council to reportedly nod in agreement. Defendant Noel disclosed that many members of the tribe knew about the hunt which facilitated his access to both weapons and a boat used in the hunt.
The US Department of Justice and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has a duty to open a new investigation into these allegations of tribal council involvement in the illegal hunt. If proven to be true, the NMFS must terminate its 12-year multimillion dollar effort to help the Makah tribe resume whaling.
After legally killing a gray whale in 1999, the Makah have been prevented from whaling due to a court order requiring a more detailed review of the hunt's environmental impacts and the issuance of a waiver to the tribe to override the prohibitions against killing marine mammals contained in the MMPA. The government is currently accepting public comment on a new Environ-mental Impact Statement on the proposed hunt.