Ahead of the 58th International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting this summer on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and Nevis, there was general worry that pro-whaling nations would have enough votes to secure a simple majority-which would mean major changes to the workings of the Commission. Representing the long-standing Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) "Save the Whale" campaign, Susan Millward and D.J. Schubert defended the interests of the whales.
The US position on a return to commercial whaling has started to drift in recent years, and in an attempt to halt the expansion of scientific research whaling by the Japanese, the US government may be willing to enter into compromises that would have disastrous consequences for the world's whales (see story page 2). In March 2006, AWI wrote to the US delegation of the IWC, expressing concern over its position and outlining instances that demonstrate the shift away from a position of whale protectionism. The response we received in May did not allay our fear.
This year's IWC meeting kicked off with a vote on Japan's proposal to remove small cetaceans from the agenda. It failed by a two-vote margin, and in a key move, Denmark abstained. In response to another proposal by Japan, this time to instate secret ballots, New Zealand stressed the importance of transparency within the IWC. Australia, Brazil, Germany, India, Italy, Morocco, South Africa, Sweden and the United States were among those joining the country in its opposition to secret ballots. This vote was also close, with 30 countries voting in favor of the secret ballots and 33 voting against the measure.
The second day brought Japan's introduction of its much-anticipated proposal for "normalization" of the IWC-an attempt to take the Commission back to its inception in 1946, which led to the near collapse of the world's whale populations. The document advocates so-called sustainable whaling and refers to cetaceans as "marine living resources available for harvesting." After a good deal of discussion and calls for either the "modernization" or the "harmonization" of the IWC, debate finally ceased.
Later that day, the talks were dominated by discussions about small-scale whaling of small cetaceans in Japan and its socioeconomic implications. The country insists four whaling communities-Abashiri, Ayukawa, Wadaura and Taiji-are suffering because of the moratorium. Japan made its standard proposal for 150 Okhotsk minke whales, but the vote failed to get even a simple majority in its favor. Thirty nations were in favor of the proposal, and 31 opposed. Interestingly, China, Kiribati, Korea and the Solomon Islands abstained.
On day three, the primary item of business was sanctuaries. Brazil once again eloquently made its case for a safe whale haven well beyond its shores in the South Atlantic. Sadly, discussions in support of and in opposition to the proposal continued until it was withdrawn. Next, Japan again presented its amendment to abolish the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, which was created in 1994. Fortunately, the needed three-quarters majority was not met.
Soon we learned that Senegal-a country expected to vote with Japan-had arrived with credentials in order. This vote, along with Denmark's, proved critical when a "declaration" by host country St. Kitts and Nevis was introduced. A 33 to 32 vote by the commissioners approved erroneous language, which blamed whales for the human-caused decline in fish populations, criticized non-governmental organizations for their efforts to protect the world's whale species, and referred to the 1986 moratorium against commercial whaling as "no longer necessary." Representatives of all countries that voted against the language, including the United States, disassociated themselves from the declaration following the vote.
The fourth day focused on "humane" whale killing. This is an oxymoron, since there is no humane way to kill a whale. Whalers in a moving vessel trying to hit a moving target in a moving sea have no chance of rendering every whale insensitive to pain with one shot, no matter what weapon is used. The United States made little comment, except to consistently defend the aboriginal subsistence whalers. In light of the Alaskan Eskimo bowhead whale quota due for renewal at the 2007 meeting, we must continue to press the US government to strengthen its position in support of whales. A full account of the IWC proceedings is available here.
Japanese whalers carve up a Baird's beaked whale just days after Japan took steps at the IWC meeting toward restoring commercial whaling. Fortunately, its actions only succeeded in drawing world attention to the underhanded methods pro-whaling countries use to further their aims at the expense of the whales.