Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. IV No. 3 July 1995


by Carole Carlson, Ph.D., Member of CSI Scientific Advisory Council and CSI Representative at the 1995 Meeting of the International Whaling Commission

The 47th meeting of the International Whaling Commission was held in Dublin, Ireland from 8 May through 2 June 1995 and was attended by representatives from 33 countries. As CSI's representative, I attended the meetings of the Scientific Committee, Technical Committee and the Commissioners meeting. The following report is a summary of some of the key issues addressed this year.
The Commission voted by a vast majority (21 for, 6 against, 6 abstain) to call on Norway to halt immediately its take of minke whales in the North Atlantic, in defiance of the commercial whaling moratorium. Although the U.S. Government supported the Resolution, they were not willing to co-sponsor it.

This year, the Norwegians announced that they would reduce their catch quota from 301 to 232 minke whales in light of computer program errors that were found in January. The Norwegian estimate for the number of minke whales in the Northeast Atlantic (upon which the quota they have given themselves is based) has bounced from 87,000 to 69,000 to 75,000 in the week prior to the IWC meeting. Even the quota was not accurately calculated. If the IWC Revised Management Procedure (RMP) was used, the quota would have been 150, not 232!

The Scientific Committee played hardball with the bouncing estimates and concluded that the process it had followed to accept Norway's 1992 estimate of 87,000 was not satisfactory and that the Committee would develop procedures to "minimize the likelihood that similar mistakes happen in the future". They further concluded that the 1992 estimate was not valid, and that they were not in the position to provide a new estimate of abundance for the Northeast Atlantic minke whales. Finally, they concluded that in view of the lack of an abundance estimate, the RMP could not be used to calculate quotas.

Norway's response to these strong statements from both the Scientific Committee and the Commission to halt the whaling was "NO WAY!". In fact, the whaling season was extended - TWICE - to be sure that the whalers can take every single whale in the quota! The season was supposed to end June 30, to allow time for the upcoming sightings survey to be prepared. As for Norway's response - what's left to say. With science no longer on their side, there are no excuses!

The Commission took another strong stand against whaling by urging Japan to stop all whaling in the new Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Last year Japan took 330 minke whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary under a "scientific permit" that, as allowed by a loophole in IWC rules, they granted themselves. This year, they announced an increase in their quota by 100 whales for the 1995/96 season.
The topic of whale watching was on the agenda of the Scientific Committee this year. The discussion was centered around a non-governmental organization (NGO) sponsored workshop on the scientific aspects of managing whale watching. The goal of the Workshop was "to produce a report containing: (1) a framework to guide the process of defining new rules and modifying existing rules for whale watching; (2) a list of recommendations for further research; and (3) a discussion of further relevant topics". The report was offered as a contribution to the scientific element of any management process. NGO reports dominated the discussion as only two member governments provided relevant material to the Committee. Attention was drawn to the Commission's 1994 Resolution on whale watching which requested member governments to supply "relevant information" and send "appropriate experts" to the Scientific Committee.

The subject of whale watching will remain on the agenda for next year and two scientists, representing NGO groups (IFAW and CSI), were appointed to an inter-sessional correspondence group on whale watching.

A special IWC Workshop on Whale Killing Methods focused on the "secondary" instruments of killing whales, such as rifles used by the Norwegian whalers and the electric lance used by the Japanese. These instruments are used to finish off the animals which do not die from the explosive grenade on the harpoon.

However, the moment of death of a whale cannot be determined and this has been a matter of controversy since the 1960's. This problem was brought to light by a presentation by David Wills of Humane Society International. Wills' studies indicate that a whale, no longer struggling, or with a slacked jaw or limp flippers may be alive and fully conscious. According to Wills, "the wounded creature is likely to be sensible and aware beyond the time of appearance of death, and is therefore capable of experiencing both fear and physical distress for significant amounts of time".

A Resolution was adopted that called for all IWC member nations to examine the data presented at the Workshop on secondary killing methods and to suspend the use of the electric lance as a method of killing whales until a decision can be reached at the 1996 meeting.

Makah Indian tribal members in Washington State have asked to revive an old tradition, they say in hopes that a return to old values will help abate the problems of alcohol and drug abuse by their youths. This tradition, however, is a return to whaling in the rugged waters of the North Pacific Ocean. An 1855 treaty makes them the only Indian nation with whale-hunting rights guaranteed by the Federal Government.

The Makah have announced a plan to kill up to five gray whales a year whales which have not been hunted legally in the U.S.A. for 40 years. The Makah last hunted a whale in 1926 and appear to be far removed from a subsistence life style. There is no longer anyone alive today who can kill a whale in a traditional manner. The Makah proposal even says that they will need to bring in either Norwegian or Japanese commercial whalers to train them. Additionally, there are real concerns about setting a precedent for other tribes (Western Canada for example) as well as black market trading in whale meat which can fetch high prices in Japan. Furthermore, in some statements, representatives of the Makah have said that they would like to keep options open to develop a commercial whaling industry.

The State Department has yet to settle on a decision.

So ends the 47th Annual Meeting of the IWC. For the whalers it was not the best year. Norway's scientific errors were exposed, and there was a strong outcry against Norway's minke whaling in the North Atlantic and Japan's defiant whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Genetic testing showed damaging evidence of continued illegal trade in whalemeat, and Russian scientists brought us closer to understanding the staggering extent of the Soviet Union's under-reporting of whales killed in the Antarctic.

And yet, for the whales, the picture is far from rosy. Despite the IWC's actions and measures taken by individual groups, Norway intends to continue whaling in the North Atlantic. Japan intends to continue and expand its unauthorized whaling under "scientific permit" and it seems that there is little that the IWC can do to stop it. The small cetaceans continue to be killed around the world and we are struggling to keep them "alive" within the IWC. Evidence of illegal whaling tells us that whaling, even on a smaller scale, cannot effectively be managed.

The IWC's resolutions against the whaling practices are vital. But, the IWC lacks teeth. What is essential to the success of these recommendations is for individual member states to back them up with strong diplomatic and if possible economic measures afterwards. This is true for no state more than the United States.

As we look to the 48th meeting of the IWC in Aberdeen in 1996, strong voices from many nations, seasoned by public support, tell us that these are incentives to continue, not discouragement to stop our work. We call all of you to action to lobby your Congress people and the Clinton Administration. The time will never be better!

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© Copyright 1995, Cetacean Society International, Inc.