The 50th meeting of the International Whaling Commission was held from 16-20 May 1998 in Muscat, Oman. Thirty-five countries, including new member Italy, observers from four non-member countries, and representatives from seventy NGOs were in attendance. The proceedings of the meeting were conducted by Mr. Michael Canny of Ireland, Chairman and Mr. Bo Fernholm of Sweden, Vice-Chairman.
The following summary highlights the proceedings of the meeting.
It was Mr. Canny who introduced the "Irish Compromise Proposal" at the 49th annual meeting last year. The proposal, calling for a global high seas sanctuary for whales and the resumption of limited commercial whaling under IWC auspices, was discussed at an "informal" meeting of the IWC in February (see Whales Alive! Vol. VII No. 2). After 3 days of extensive discussions, no consensus was reached. Japan continues to oppose the phasing out of scientific whaling, Norway, the prohibition of international trade in whale meat, and many governments the resumption of commercial whaling.
Mr. Canny announced at the onset of the meeting that he would continue informal talks with Commissioners about the Proposal throughout the meeting. The Proposal would then be discussed under the agenda item "Future of the Commission". However, due to meeting delays and time-wasting interventions, accepted by the new Chairman in the spirit of the "Compromise", and a more than full agenda, there was little time at the end of the last day to address the Proposal. When it was addressed, Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, UK and the US spoke in opposition to the proposal while several countries spoke of the need for compromise. Japan and Norway stated that compromise would be impossible unless the countries opposed to whaling made concessions.
Before the Commission will consider the setting of catch limits for commercial whaling, a number of issues, including the setting of an observation and inspection scheme, must be completed. These fall under the RMS. This year, positions remain as polarized as before and no progress was made.
The USA introduced a resolution to include human induced mortalities such as bycatch in the consideration of catch limits for commercial whaling. This provides that catch limits will be calculated by deducting "all human induced mortalities that are known or can reasonably be estimated". The resolution requests the Scientific Committee to provide advice in this regard for the Commission's consideration in the RMS. The resolution passed with 21 in favor, 10 against and 4 abstentions.
Japan presented its proposal, seconded by Grenada, for a Schedule amendment which would allow an "emergency" quota of 50 minke whales for its four remaining land-based commercial whaling operations. Japan, for the eleventh consecutive year, argued that it needed an interim quota to alleviate the distress of the ex-whaling communities. The proposal did not receive the two-thirds majority needed and failed 12 in favor, 17 against with 4 abstentions.
Antigua then presented a resolution stating that once the Revised Management Scheme (RMS) was adopted, that there would be "no further reason to deny the Japanese coastal communities the resumption of commercial whaling". New Zealand claimed that the language in the resolution would be binding to the Commission and that it should be tabled as a Schedule amendment.
New Zealand introduced a comprehensive report from the International Workshop on the Social and Economic Aspects of Whale Watching. The Workshop was sponsored by the NGO IFAW, and a letter of endorsement by New Zealand was attached on the back of the title page as directed by the IWC Secretariat. Japan and Dominica questioned the placement of the endorsement letter and suggested that a working group be formed to discuss the placement of such a letter in reports as well as to clarify the difference between endorsement and introduction. The Netherlands then asked if it was acceptable to speak to the substance of the report!
Chile stated that whale watching is an excellent opportunity for many developing nations and asked the Commission to assist by supporting seminars in countries that take such an initiative. South Africa announced that it had decided to engage in boat-based whale watching and several countries stated that the IWC should promote whale watching as a non-lethal sustainable use of whales.
Despite the strong series of presentations on whale watching, Japan and the Caribbean countries continue to argue that whale watching is beyond the competency of the IWC and should not be discussed. The Caribbean delegates urged a cautious approach to this "dangerous industry" and further suggested, among other things, that the stress of whale watching can cause whales to commit suicide. They stated their concern about whale watching and ecotourism as they need to use the area for fisheries.
Japan proposed to change the name of the Humane Killing Working Group (HKWG) to Hunting Methods as they believe the IWC does not have competency over humane killing. The Netherlands suggested that the name could be changed to "Improvement of Hunting Methods" but that humaneness must be discussed. Discussion of the name of the Working Group will continue at next year's meeting and the terms of reference for the Humane Killing Workshop which meets next year, were changed to:
"complete a comparative analysis of the methods and consider revision of the Action Plan as appropriate with a view to improving whale killing techniques and so minimizing times to irreversible sensitivity and death, and therefore the risk of pain caused to the animal, while paying proper regard to practicalities and to the safety of the crew".
New Zealand asked Japan to report on the progress and results since 1997 when they agreed to replace the electric lance, the secondary killing method for whales, with the rifle. Japan refused to submit the information formally to the meeting and stated that it would only provide information to the Humane Killing Workshop in 1999 and bilaterally, upon request from Parties, NGOs and the press.
No changes to the catch limits for several stocks of whales subject to aboriginal subsistence whaling were made this year.
A letter written by the chief whaler of Bequia asked the Commission to consider increasing the quota of humpback whales taken in the Bequia hunt from two to three. This will be discussed next year if a formal request for an increase in quota is received from the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The take of two humpback whales this year, a female and calf, will be discussed in the Infractions Subcommittee.
It was noted that Canada had issued licenses for an aboriginal take from 2 stocks of bowhead whales. Concern had been expressed by the Scientific Committee and a resolution asking that Canada rejoin the IWC and not issue further licenses was adopted.
The United Kingdom introduced a resolution on Norway's continued take of Minke whales in the Northeast Atlantic. The resolution did not challenge Norway's right to whale as they have not withdrawn their objection to the moratorium on commercial whaling. It does however express disappointment and concern that Norway has chosen to exercise this right. Each year, the self-imposed quota for minke whales has increased in number.
Japan proposed an amendment to the resolution confirming that the Norwegian hunt is legal, deleting all references that would inhibit the Norwegian whaling. The amendment, seconded by St. Lucia, failed by 9 votes in favor, 18 against and 7 abstentions. The original proposal passed with 15 votes in favor, 9 against and 10 abstentions.
Sweden commented that although accepting the resolution, it hopes that these issues will be resolved through the adoption of the Irish Proposal.
The report of the Scientific Committee was presented by its Chairman, Dr. John Bannister. There was lengthy discussion on the mandate of the Scientific Committee and several countries reiterated that the Scientific Committee should follow the priorities of the Commission and not self-determine its mandate.
Japan introduced a resolution concerning the Scientific Committee "in appreciation of its work and to encourage science". They stated that there had been several attempts by the Commission to discourage the work of the Scientific Committee and intervene in its work. The resolution was amended to provide for the Advisory Committee to consult with the Scientific Committee to produce recommendations. The recommendations would then be reported directly to the Commission. The amended resolution was passed by consensus.
A resolution directing the Scientific Committee to end their work on North Pacific Bryde's Whales was introduced by the US. The US began by stating that the Scientific Committee should take instruction from the Commission and should not undertake studies on Bryde's whales which will not come under a take in the near future. The work ultimately prepares for commercial hunts on the high seas. There were several interventions. Japan stated that the resolution was illogical and against the convention; Ireland that it would suspend the work of the Scientific Committee and "impede the move to compromise"; France stated that the work goes in the direction of pelagic whaling; Italy added that the Scientific Committee provides advice but the Commission gives instruction; St. Lucia queried what the Scientific Committee would do intersessionally when there is no opportunity to plan for whaling and stated that the resolution increases the burden of the Scientific Committee with environmental issues. The resolution was defeated with 13 in favor, 17 against and 2 abstentions.
The Commission considered two proposed permits by Japan to hunt minke whales in scientific whaling programs in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and the North Pacific. The Scientific Committee reviewed Japan's self-allocated permits and suggested that a comprehensive review be undertaken in 2000. The Commission adopted, by majority, a resolution which "reaffirms its previous request that the Government of Japan refrain from issuing any further permits for the take of minke whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and the North Pacific Ocean".
Concern was expressed over Japan's kill of Dall's porpoise which has increased 50% from 1995, and the use of the electric lance as a secondary killing method. Japan stated that the use of the electric lance on small cetaceans is outside the competence of the IWC. It further stated that the primary concern of the Commission is large cetaceans and that the work on small cetaceans should not hinder discussions of large cetaceans in the Scientific Committee.
The United Kingdom expressed concern to Denmark that the catches of beluga whales (white whales) by Greenland have depleted the population by about 60%. The sustainable hunt level by Greenland is about 200 per year, not the 700 currently taken. Denmark argued that small cetaceans were outside the competency of the IWC and that this matter rested with the Home Rule Government.
A resolution was introduced encouraging all states that have beluga whales in their waters to "ensure that catch levels are properly monitored; to provide relevant scientific data; and to send some experts to the Scientific Committee at the 51st meeting of the IWC to assist its discussions of stock structure and abundance estimates of white whale populations". The resolution was passed by consensus.
The Chairman of the Scientific Committee reported on two workshops on environmental issues: pollution and climate change. The two workshops, hosted by the IWC, highlighted the threat to whales and dolphins from environmental change and the appropriateness of the IWC to address these concerns. The Commission, stronger in its commitment to research on environmental change and its effect on cetaceans, supported research on habitat change as highlighted by the Scientific Committee. The Committee's Standing Working Group on Environmental Change (SWGEC) discussed a number of topics including acoustic disturbance, ozone depletion, pollutants, disease and mortality, habitat degradation and fisheries. The research priorities (in order) are: pollutants and chemical contaminants; and habitat and prey depletion.
A resolution on environmental change and cetaceans was passed by consensus. The resolution directs the Commission to give high priority to the research initiatives of the SWGEC; the Scientific Committee to invite experts in the identified areas of environmental change to their annual meetings; and agrees to establish a regular agenda item entitled "Environmental Concerns" under which the Scientific Committee could report on non-lethal research on these issues and Contracting Governments could report on national and regional efforts to "monitor and address the impacts of environmental change on cetaceans and other marine mammals".
Next year a proposal to establish a fund for environmental research will be considered.
Monaco proposed a resolution requesting collaboration between the World Health Organization (WHO) and the IWC. The resolution was welcomed by Denmark as two parts of the Danish Kingdom eat whale meat. It believed that this was a problem primarily for toothed whales. Norway supported the substance of the resolution but did not believe that the IWC has competence in this area and suggested that it be taken up next year. After further discussion, the resolution was passed by consensus.
The Chairman suggested that the Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee (United Kingdom) be part of the Advisory Committee. The Committee now consists of the Chairman (Ireland) and Vice Chairman (Sweden) of the Committee, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom.
A resolution that would attempt to deny observers' access to the meetings followed the spectacle over the NGO opening statements. After some discussion, it was agreed by a vote of 14 in favor, 10 against and 10 abstentions, that the matter would be referred to the Advisory Committee.
Japan introduced a proposal for secret balloting in defense of the rights of "small, defenseless countries" such as the Caribbean against the "might of international non-governmental organizations". Several countries made strong interventions supporting transparency in international fora.
Monaco suggested a compromise proposal to appease Japan, allowing for the specific use of secret ballots for the election of the Chair, Vice Chair, and Secretary. Before the amendment could be voted on, the Caribbean demanded that the International Wildlife Coalition and the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness withdraw their opening statements and apologize to the meeting. They further insisted that the two NGOs and all NGOs associated with the statements be expelled from the meeting. The first statement, signed by several international NGOs, alleged a link between the voting pattern of the Caribbean and aid packages provided by Japan.
The meeting was adjourned early for a meeting of Commissioners to discuss the statements. They concluded that the statement signed by several NGOs was technically a letter, and should not be distributed as an opening statement.
As Monaco's amendment came to a vote the next day, Australia moved another amendment to further limit the use of the secret ballot. That was followed by Antigua and Barbuda who then moved another amendment to increase the use of the secret ballot to all non-binding resolutions. Antigua and Barbuda's amendment was put to the vote first and was solidly defeated by 9 votes in favor to 21 against. Japan withdrew its original proposal.
The Commission noted that cooperation with other organizations, particularly those involved in scientific research, was important and that such affiliations had strengthened this year. This included further research cooperation with Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), Southern Ocean GLOBEC, International Convention on Endangered Species (ICES) and The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS).
The Commission adopted a resolution on the cooperation between the IWC and the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). The resolution expressed its appreciation to CITES for reaffirming the relationship between the two groups; recognized the importance of such a relationship to the conservation of whale stocks; reaffirmed the need for Contracting Governments to observe fully IWC resolutions addressing the problem of illegal trade in whale products; and urged all governments to provide information as requested in previous resolutions. The Commission was further directed to forward the resolution, the report of the Infractions Subcommittee and the Scientific Committee to the CITES Secretariat.
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