Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 4 October 1997


Turmoil At The IWC - A Test Of Wills

by Dr. Robbins Barstow, CSI Director Emeritus


It used to be simple and clear-cut. There were pro-whaling countries and organizations, and there were anti-whaling countries and organizations.

From the high-slaughter year of 1962, when 62,000 great whales were killed by international agreement, the anti-whaling forces grew and brought about annual reductions in the kill quotas set by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the global regulatory body established by treaty in 1946, at the end of World War II.

Finally, after 20 years, in 1982, the "Save the Whale" movement reached the point where three-quarters of the voting members of the IWC adopted a moratorium on commercial whale killing to take effect in 1986, subject to future review.

The anti-whaling forces had prevailed, at least for the time being, and it appeared that it might be only a matter of time before a new, global ethic, holding the killing of whales for profit to be morally, ecologically, aesthetically, and environmentally unjustified, would become all but universally accepted.

But the pro-whaling interests refused to give up. Even though they represented a minority in the IWC, they redoubled their efforts to have the moratorium overturned, and they exploited every loophole to get around it.

Despite IWC disapproval, Japan has blatantly continued whaling operations in the Antarctic under the guise of "scientific research," even disregarding the IWC's establishment in 1994 of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Norway has defiantly set its own quotas for the commercial taking of minke whales in the North Atlantic. This year both Japan and Norway increased their kills to over 500 whales each.

At the same time, the whaling nations, particularly Japan and Norway, have mounted increasingly vigorous offensives, both within and without the IWC, to reopen the world's oceans to internationally approved trade in whales and whale products.

They have pushed for the adoption by the IWC of a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) under which quotas for commercial whaling would again be instituted. They have sought to have the IWC establish a new category under which small-type coastal whaling for commerce would be authorized. They have tried to expand the definition of aboriginal subsistence whaling to allow whale killing of a commercial nature by indigenous peoples where no nutritional subsistence need has been demonstrated.

Outside the IWC they have fought hard to overturn the protections under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) which currently ban trade in whale products. (See report on "CITES: A Whale of a Meeting," by Kate O'Connell, in July 1997 Whales Alive!)

All of this has had a cumulative effect on the whale protection movement. It has created confusion and turmoil and a weakening of resolve on the part of countries and organizations once committed unequivocally to total opposition to any resumption of commercial whaling.

This year a stunning new strategy has emerged which threatens to divide the whale conservation community and to turn the 1997 IWC meeting into one of the most tumultuous in its controversial history.

Proposals have been raised to establish a "Global Whale Sanctuary," extending sanctuary status to all of the world's oceans - which sounds tremendous at first glance. But so far these proposals contain devastating exceptions, which would have the effect of nullifying the protections which sanctuaries are supposed to provide.

Ireland has floated a plan which reportedly would ban whaling in all international waters, up to the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ's) established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), even though almost all of the world's whales are found at one time or another within two hundred miles of land.

And just at the last moment, in an utterly surprising and contradictory proposal contained in the just-published Report of Australia's 1997 National Task Force on Whaling, the recommendation is made that a Global Whale Sanctuary be established "up to the territorial seas of each coastal state (up to twelve nautical miles)." (See separate story in this issue on Australia's Task Force Report.)

This raises a host of issues and problems, particularly relating to "coastal whaling," to which this proposal would appear to open the floodgates. Moreover, as the more than five million people who went whale watching last year from more than 60 countries, spending an estimated total of more than 500 million dollars worldwide, can testify, most coastal whale watching takes place within 12 miles from shore.

These exception-creating "Global Whale Sanctuary" proposals will no doubt add significantly to the turmoil at the IWC's 49th Annual Meeting, being held in Monaco on October 17-24.

In the world today, there are two basically irreconcilable views regarding the killing of whales for commercial gain. There is virtually no support for the unrestricted resumption of whale killing, so the division lies between those who believe that whales are an exploitable resource whose limited and regulated killing is justifiable for commercial purposes, and those who believe that whales are an exceptional, living, natural resource whose killing for profit can no longer be justified for moral, ecological, aesthetic and environmental reasons.

Since whales, as highly migratory, ocean-dwelling species, do not belong to any one nation, and are part of the common heritage of all humankind, their optimum utilization must be internationally determined. Ultimately, only one of the two current views can prevail in a world of global standards.

To end the protracted conflict within the IWC, some parties appear to regard a "compromise" arrangement prohibiting pelagic whaling on the deep seas, but authorizing coastal whaling within offshore waters, as offering a "final solution" to the whaling problem. Apart from the all but insurmountable difficulties in enforcing such a regime, however, it could never answer the moral objections of the widespread numbers of global citizens to whom any commercial whale killing is unacceptable.

At the 1995 IWC meeting in Dublin, Ireland, representatives of 70 national and international conservation organizations issued a "Statement of Affirmation" expressing the following convictions: "We believe that even if commercial whaling could be shown to be theoretically sustainable, it cannot now be justified. We therefore urge all member nations to work toward the goal of an IWC management regime of total global protection from consumptive, commercial exploitation, and from lethal scientific whaling. We believe that the optimum utilization of cetacean resources under the ICRW must stem from non-lethal, non-consumptive research, recreational, and educational activities, such as those involved in benign whale watching."

The Cetacean Society International remains committed to this goal. In specific terms, we believe this means pressing at the Monaco IWC meeting for the following actions:

  1. Maintain the current moratorium on commercial whaling indefinitely in all waters including coastal waters, by keeping in effect paragraph 10(e) of the Schedule.
  2. Resist any extension of the current provisions for aboriginal subsistence whaling, and oppose the Makah application for a quota of five gray whales.
  3. Oppose the recognition of any additional categories of whaling, and in particular any proposal for approval of catches for small-type coastal whaling.
  4. Oppose any proposal to adopt the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) by resolution, or to incorporate the RMS into the Schedule.
  5. Seek to strengthen the 1980 Working Group definition of humane killing, and seek a ban on the use of the electric lance.
  6. Maintain IWC jurisdiction, as asserted in the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (Article I, Section 2), over "all waters in which whaling is prosecuted."

As recently noted by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), recent polls conducted by the WDCS in the United Kingdom and by the International Fund for Animal Welfare in the United States show overwhelming support for an end to all commercial whale killing. "The public," WDCS affirms, "have rejected whaling in favor of whale watching, which now generates more income worldwide than does whaling. Most importantly, whale watching is of growing economic value in both the developed and the developing world, unlike commercial and scientific whaling which accrue benefits only to a minuscule community of whalers in Japan and Norway."

The 1997 IWC meeting in a real sense promises to be a test of wills. To all those who believe in "Whales Alive!" we say, "Keep the faith, stand strong, and carry on."


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