Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 4 October 1997


Australian Task Force Report:
Powerful Anti-Whaling Stand Jeopardized by Key Recommendation

by Robbins Barstow, Ph.D., CSI Director Emeritus


The long-awaited Report of the Australian National Task Force on Whaling has at last been made public, and it contains a devastating bombshell.

The 100-page document presents what the Task Force itself calls "an unanswerable case in favor of a permanent ban on commercial whaling." The Report contains comprehensive reviews and analyses of the History of Whaling and Its Regulation, Current Whaling Activities and Potential, and Australia's Opposition to Commercial Whaling. Chapter 5 of the Report sets forth with great force the Arguments against Commercial Whaling, including: (1) The Inhumaneness of Whaling, (2) Conservation and Sustainable Development, and (3) Moral/Ethical Arguments.

In its Executive Summary, the Report clearly affirms (page 2): "The Task Force has concluded that, apart from limited aboriginal subsistence whaling, there is no need for whales to be killed to provide food or other products for human consumption. We believe that whaling is inherently cruel and inhumane and could be justifiably opposed on this basis alone. However, we argue that the decision to ban commercial whaling is also the ethically, ecologically and environmentally correct one to adopt. We have considered, in this respect, questions of cultural relevance and sensitivity all of which, we believe, can be addressed adequately."

The Task Force sets forth a series of 13 Recommendations, some of them general, some of them specific. The first four call for the Australian Government to (1) "take all reasonable steps to bring about, as expeditiously as possible, a permanent international ban on commercial whaling," (2) apply "the precautionary principle in pursuing its goals," (3) make its "primary focus for achieving a permanent international ban on commercial whaling...the International Whaling Commission (IWC)," and (4) "in addition, ...take positive steps in other relevant international fora to advance" this goal.

But then comes the bombshell. Recommendation 5, subsection "a," specifically relating to the IWC, contains the following language:

"The ultimate objective of the Australian Government should be to have the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling 1946 amended to bring about an effective, permanent international ban on commercial whaling. However, recognizing the significant legal and logistical difficulties to be overcome to achieve this outcome, this must be considered a long-term goal.

"In the short term, the Australian Government should carry out the following actions within the IWC:

"a. (i) Australia should support strongly the maintenance of paragraph 10 (e) of the Schedule to the Convention, as the continuation of this paragraph, without modification, results effectively in an ongoing moratorium.

"(ii) Australia should work towards the establishment of a global whale sanctuary in all international waters and Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ's), established under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, up to the territorial seas of each coastal State (up to twelve nautical miles), through an appropriate amendment to paragraph 7 of the Schedule to the Convention.

"(iii) as a complementary measure Australia should also work toward the insertion in the Schedule of a commitment to a fifty year moratorium, using a precedent such as the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty (on exploitation of mineral resources)."

The bombshell lies in the recommended limitation on the proposed global whale sanctuary, exempting "territorial seas" up to twelve miles from protection from commercial whaling. Such a limitation would effectively nullify any oceanic sanctuary, and would open the way for a proliferation of "coastal whaling" worldwide within (and no doubt without) the twelve-mile limit!

As a twenty-year veteran of IWC Annual Meetings, having been in on the establishment of both the Indian Ocean Sanctuary (at London in 1979) and the Southern Ocean Sanctuary (at Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in 1994), I find it hard to believe that a Task Force so strongly committed to banning commercial whaling would submit a recommendation which would so clearly undermine this goal. A sanctuary extending only up to twelve miles from any coast would run directly counter to the immediately preceding Task Force recommendation (#a (1)) to maintain paragraph 10 (e) of the Schedule which sets zero catch limits "for the killing for commercial purposes of whales from all stocks."

The existing moratorium on commercial whaling applies to all whales in "all waters in which whaling is prosecuted" (1946 Convention, Article I, paragraph 2). The present Schedule makes no reference to "up to twelve miles." Neither the Indian Ocean Sanctuary provision (Schedule paragraph 7 (a)) nor the Southern Ocean Sanctuary provision (Schedule paragraph 7 (b)) place any off-coast limitations on the waters so designated.

In each case, paragraph 7 states: "commercial whaling, whether by pelagic operations or from land stations, is prohibited in a region designated as the...Sanctuary," and the Sanctuary is defined as comprising "the waters of the Northern Hemisphere from the coast of Africa to 100 degrees East," etc. (Indian Ocean), and "the waters of the Southern Hemisphere southwards of the following line," delineated by a series of specified degrees, South, West, and East (Southern Ocean).

Why in the world, if Australia is committed to the long-term goal of permanently banning commercial whaling, would she seek the short-term goal of eliminating coastal waters sanctuary protection, and setting the stage for worldwide commercial, small-type coastal whaling?

The only justification I have been able to find for the sudden and unexplained interjection of a proposed twelve-mile exemption for sanctuary status is the following statement in the Task Force Executive Summary (page 2): "Ideally, we would like a global whale sanctuary to include all waters up to the low-water mark, but we recognize that this would involve significant difficulties with national sovereignty. Consequently, our recommendations take account of these potential problems."

National sovereignty is, of course, the greatest problem facing any effort to achieve a permanent international ban on commercial whaling. But in seeking to achieve even a long-term objective, it appears unconscionable to give away a basic principle as a short term strategy. Naturally, all-waters global sanctuary coverage would be hotly disputed, and perhaps unattainable for the foreseeable future. But its eventual achievement would be infinitely more difficult if coastal waters protection were to be sacrificed now.

The current struggle within the IWC revolves around the maintenance of the paragraph 10(e) moratorium, and the increasing push by the whaling countries to overturn this and to legitimize small-type coastal whaling. To open the door to commercial whaling within twelve miles of shore would be to abandon the fight for full protection.

The text of the Australian Task Force Report has just now become available on the Internet (http://www.biodiversity.environment.gov.au). Though I have not yet seen a hard copy of the Report, I have scrutinized what I have found on the Web, and I have been deeply impressed with the substance of the Report and its powerful anti-whaling arguments and conclusions.

In Chapter 7, there is a section devoted to NGO concerns about "Consistency of Promoting Australia's Position." The Report notes that: "Australia's actions have, at times, been seen to be inconsistent with a policy position of opposition to whaling."

The Task Force concludes this Chapter with the following assertion (page 8): "Australia's policy should be clear and unambiguous, and the positions it takes should be consistent with its objective of banning commercial whaling."

I submit that Task Force Recommendation 5, a, (ii) for a restricted global whale sanctuary is woefully inconsistent with this objective and would undermine most of the other strong and positive recommendations. It would have the effect of legalizing and encouraging an immediate proliferation in coastal commercial whaling.

The way ultimately to ban whale killing for profit worldwide, is not to give the go ahead to even limited coastal whaling now, but rather to hold the fort and keep pressing positive initiatives which do not betray the goal, while strongly committing the requisite resources (Task Force Recommendation 9) to a "domestic and international educative campaign."


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