Invigorate, not Capitulate: The Prescription for Whaling Commission Success

The Member-Nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) were poised to make a critical decision at the 2009 Intersessional Meeting held in Rome in March. They were faced with whether to continue pursuing a package of compromise rooted in groundless fears and flimsy hopes, or grasp a golden opportunity to turn a corner in cetacean protection by transforming the IWC into a 21st century whale conservation body.

Before them was a deal spearheaded by two chairs: an outside “expert” on conflict resolution, and a long-time meeting attendee and US Commissioner, Dr. William Hogarth. After two years of deliberations, the deal presented to the body boils down to a lifting of the commercial whaling moratorium in exchange for a loose agreement to kill fewer whales for “scientific research" in the Antarctic.

The deal is being portrayed by Hogarth to his increasingly weary fellow commissioners as a way to get Japan to reduce the number of whales killed every year by its whalers, yet the plan ignores whales killed by Norway and Iceland. Even if Japan agrees to such a deal, which it has shown no indication of doing, this claim cannot be met, since the deal is non-binding. What’s more, it is impertinent to suggest that the IWC members, whose constituents overwhelmingly want whales to be conserved, should support overturning the commercial whaling moratorium as the solution to decades of illegal, cruel and corrupt behavior by the whaling nations. Any deal at this time would only demean the deaths of almost 17,000 whales killed for commercial gain since the moratorium came into force, as well as facilitate more future whaling.

Japan, Iceland and Norway deserve international condemnation for their ongoing whaling operations—specifically Japan, which has demonstrated:

  1. continued disdain for the will of the majority of IWC member-nations;
  2. blatant misuse of the Whaling Convention to engage in commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research;
  3. propagation of the false idea of IWC dysfunction, including threats to leave the body if demands are not met;
  4. manufacture of fraudulent evidence to blame whales for the collapse of marine fisheries;
  5. use of food security concerns to mislead other nations into supporting whaling;
  6. vote buying to accomplish self-serving objectives within the IWC;
  7. conduct of lethal scientific research resulting in no credible findings; and
  8. complete disregard for the significant environmental impacts of its whaling operations and failure to comply with relevant environmental laws.

All Commercial Whaling Must End Now
As UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has emphasized in the government brochure, “Protecting Whales—A global responsibility,” “whale-watching is the only use of whales which is both humane and sustainable.” Any compromise is unnecessary and will reverse decades of whale conservation efforts and successes. The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has appealed to IWC member governments to refute the notion of a “whaling compromise” and prepared a detailed analysis of why commercial whaling today is without justification. Entitled “There’s No Room for Compromise—Commercial Whaling Must End,” the document was distributed at the Rome meeting and will be presented at the upcoming 61st annual IWC meeting in Madeira, Portugal.

The arguments against a resumption of commercial whaling are more forceful today than ever, since whales are facing innumerable threats from other man-made sources. There is no real market for whale meat or blubber in Japan, the Japanese people do not support commercial whaling, and Japan’s whaling industry is economically unviable. Yet the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research persists in spending almost $5.5 million of taxpayer funds annually on its “scientific” whaling program with the meat destined for commercial sale.

The country’s long-standing desire to resume coastal whaling is groundless, unenforceable, and would require a lifting of the commercial whaling moratorium, which would undermine the protections afforded to whales under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Such whaling would threaten the survival of a critically endangered population of minke whales and set a precedent for other countries to seek similar allowances for their coastal communities. Most importantly, whaling in any form is inherently cruel, causing significant and unacceptable suffering. There is no killing method currently available that satisfies the IWC’s definition of humane killing.

IWC member-nations that have historically opposed commercial whaling can collectively achieve a permanent and compassionate way forward. The solution is not capitulation, but invigoration of the IWC, in which the conservation, protection and recovery of cetaceans trumps the commercialization and persecution of these intelligent animals. Considering the near extinction of many of the great whale species due to commercial exploitation, the slow to non-existent rate of recovery for many species, and the increasing anthropogenic threats to whales and their habitats, permanently ending their slaughter for commercial purposes of any kind is of utmost urgency.

A Rotten Deal
Why Hogarth and commercial whaling apologists have it all wrong:

  • There is no evidence that any nation will leave the IWC if dialogue and progress are not improved.
  • Meetings of the IWC Small Working Group that resulted in the deal were conducted behind closed doors. Civil society should be involved in discussions and decisions with such far-reaching effects.
  • The deal rewards consistently bad behavior by the whaling nations and establishes a dangerous precedent for whale conservation and future negotiations in international forums.
  • The deal lacks substantive detail. Consideration of key issues—including loopholes in the Whaling Convention that allow commercial whaling to continue, despite the moratorium—are deferred to a five-year “interim period,” which only postpones resolution of the inherent problems with the Convention, while allowing a whaling free-for-all.
  • Norway and Iceland’s commercial whaling is not addressed in the deal, nor is the killing of species other than minke whales in the Western North Pacific.
  • The deal undermines historical efforts to conserve whales, and its “solution” is inconsistent with the general will of the world’s citizens.
  • The deal ignores international trade issues. Any lifting of the commercial whaling moratorium would have adverse implications to the protections afforded to whales under CITES.
  • There is no evidence that a continuation of the status quo would “compromise the conservation status of whale populations” as the deal purports. More, not fewer, whales are likely to be killed in the long-term if the IWC approves the deal.
  • The proposal to permit, but scale back, “scientific” whaling would contradict decades of opposition to the practice from both governments and the scientific community.
  • Approving a special deal or package to benefit Japan establishes a mechanism for other IWC member-nations to pursue similar packages.

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