Panama City, Panama: After hours of rancorous debate, the International Whaling Commission accepted a proposal from the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) to kill four humpback whales a year for the next six years. The proposal was strongly opposed by a block of Latin American countries led by the Dominican Republic whose whale watching industry generates millions of dollars annually from the same humpbacks targeted by SVG. However, the proposal was eventually accepted by 48 votes to ten with two abstentions.
Humpback whaling in SVG started in 1875 as a primarily commercial activity on the SVG island of Bequia, targeting humpback whales for their oil. In 1987, the IWC accepted SVG’s assurances that the dwindling whaling operation would not outlast its last surviving harpooner and granted SVG an Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) quota to allow it to continue hunting despite the commercial whaling moratorium. For almost 30 years the IWC has turned a blind eye to a catalog of problems with the hunt, documented recently by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), including the use of brutally inhumane weapons from speedboats, the commercialization of whale meat to tourists and the fact that Bequia’s hunters are not indigenous people as required by the IWC and have not adequately demonstrated that whale meat satisfies any pressing nutritional or cultural need.
Many contracting governments raised these and other concerns about the hunt but only ten were willing to vote against the proposal which was packaged with requests from the USA and Russia for renewals of their ASW quotas, for bowhead and gray whales. Defeat of the SVG proposal would have denied the USA and Russia their quotas – a step too few were brave enough to take.
A powerful case against the quota was made by the Chair of the St. Vincent National Trust who disputed SVG’s claims to have indigenous whalers, questioned SVG’s commitment to meeting the IWC’s reporting requirements, and expressed concern about the potentially negative impact of whaling on SVG’s vital and growing tourism industry.
Susan Millward, Executive Director of AWI, described the IWC’s decision as spineless. “The IWC should have addressed each of the three quotas on its merits, voting on each separately. Treating them as one allowed St. Vincent and the Grenadines to bury problems with the hunt and masquerade as a legitimate ASW nation.”