IWC Defers Major Decisions

Critical issues were on the agenda for the 61st International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, held June 22 to 25 in Madeira, Portugal; but those that were addressed were principally the minor ones. Instead, in the spirit of conviviality characterizing the IWC over the past two meetings, contentious issues were deferred to yet more meetings that troublingly will not include all stakeholders. Substantive discussions, however, did take place on the sidelines, making the presence of Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) Executive Director Susan Millward and Wildlife Biologist D.J. Schubert essential.

The resolution of two superficially separated, but implicitly linked and important issues, was postponed: considering Denmark's request for an additional annual quota of 10 humpback whales for its Greenland whalers and deciding the future of the IWC.

AWI, while unopposed to genuine aboriginal subsistence whaling, contends that the request is unreasonable, because Greenland’s existing annual quotas of 19 fin whales, 212 minke whales, and two bowhead whales already exceed the number needed for subsistence. AWI is concerned over 1) whether there is a true subsistence need for killing more whales, given the significant waste from existing hunts; 2) how conversion factors used to compute meat yield are calculated (Greenland quantifies subsistence needs by weight; IWC allocation is by numbers of animals); 3) why Greenland calculates its subsistence need based on all Greenlanders, not just aboriginals; and 4) why a quarter of Greenland’s whale meat is routinely sold for profit.

Though Greenland’s proposal was discussed over several days, it did not come to a vote, due to the general desire to avoid conflict. Instead, IWC Chair William Hogarth successfully proposed deferring discussion to a special meeting later this year.

The future of the IWC body was the second controversial issue slated for resolution at the meeting, and again, the desire for harmony prevented substantive debate and decisions. AWI has not supported these discussions to date, since they have centered on a compromise that would allow for a resumption of commercial whaling, instead of tackling the core issues of loopholes in the Whaling Convention and other threats facing whales. Participants settled upon extending discussions and creating another closed-door working group to meet in October.

In a bit of bright news, Hogarth’s term as U.S. Commissioner and IWC Chair concluded, and Christian Maquiera of Chile was appointed his successor. Our past experience at meetings chaired by Maquirea has shown him to be firm, yet fair, and a welcome proponent of representation by civil society.