Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VIII No. 3 July 1999

51st International Whaling Commission Meeting, May 1999

by Katie Gray, CSI's IWC Representative

On the whole, this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting held in Grenada was a win for cetaceans.

A Resolution on cooperation between the IWC and CITES was overwhelmingly approved, upholding decisions of the 10th Conference of the Parties to CITES. The resolution states that any import or export of any whale stocks that have a zero catch limit remains illegal and should be monitored.

The U.S. and U.K. came out very strongly in favor of environmental issues.

Dr. D. James Baker, United States Commissioner, gave a spectacular multimedia presentation entitled "Global Environmental Change: Understanding Threats to Cetaceans." The presentation was developed by Chris Sparkman, who is on loan to NOAA. The program encompassed Global Warming, Ozone Depletion, and pollution such as DDT, PCB's and more. I did hear mentioned that Dr. Baker's audio comments would be dubbed onto the CD-ROM that was prepared for the presentation, and will be available at some future date. Commissioners were presented with copies of the original CD-ROM. Given such a strong presentation, it was to be expected that the IWC passed several resolutions relating to the effects of environmental changes on cetaceans, as well as the human health implications of eating cetacean meat. The resolution on health effects from consumption of cetaceans was approved. The resolution links ill health effects in humans to the consumption of cetaceans because of high levels of metals and contaminants. These resolutions go a long way to prove that the IWC is responding to the new challenges faced by whales and dolphins, and entering the new century on a positive, proactive note.

Japan proposed a quota of 50 minke whales, for small type Coastal Whaling from the Okhostsk Sea - West Pacific stock citing the socioeconomic and cultural needs of the people from four small communities. The proposal was overwhelmingly voted down, as it has been for the past decade.

The Japanese delegation used many exquisitely executed stall tactics. They insisted on checking the credentials of all the observers. They attempted to have Greenpeace banned, citing the harmless actions by Greenpeace activists who dangled off the bow line and anchor of the whaling vessel Nisshin-Maru while it was in port in New Caledonia. In addition, several Japanese delegates, who speak English fluently, utilized an interpreter to slow the proceedings down. In all, the Japanese delegation's behavior at this meeting was bordering on the unprofessional and obstructionist, and clearly not conducive to dialogue.

One of the high points for CSI came when several delegations, including Brasil, the U.K. and U.S. spoke out in strong support of whale watching and its potential for effecting positive change in the region of the wider Caribbean. A report by Erich Hoyt commissioned by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society showed that whale watching potential in the region is huge, and that this activity has been growing in the wider Caribbean. CSI has long been a supporter and promoter of this 'non-consumptive' utilization of whales, and it is gratifying to see how well-managed, locally based whale watching can benefit regional economies. In addition, it was clear throughout the week that the anti-whale stands of the Caribbean delegates to the IWC does not accurately reflect the needs or wishes of the region; several Caribbean NGOs in attendance criticized their government's stand against whale watching.

Secret balloting will only be employed for voting for a new Chairman and the next meeting location. No secret balloting will be allowed on substantive items. This is a major victory, as it means that governments will continue to be held accountable to the opinion of the public.

St. Vincent was given a 3 year quota, but has agreed to much stronger language. In February 1999 Bequia whalers killed a humpback calf, lashed it to the boat and went in pursuit of the escorting adult whale (probably its mother). This is the Bequian whalers' routine method of killing. Yet at this year's meeting the St. Vincent and The Grenadines delegates repeatedly explained that the whales do not know the difference between an adult and a calf.

The Makah issue was not brought up, with the exception of Japan and Denmark giving their congratulations. Many NGOs did circulate a statement that made the point that they view the Makah hunt as a violation of the IWC, as a quota was never clearly defined for them under IWC rules.

Over 25 organizations signed on to a letter written to President Clinton asking him to withdraw his World Trade Organization objection to the Banana import regime. It is unfortunate that U.S. aid to the wider Caribbean region has been cut by a dramatic 90% in the past 10 years, and this new move by the U.S. threatens the economic stability of the Caribbean region, as bananas are a main source of important foreign income. Believe it or not, whales, bananas, and U.S. aid are inextricably linked together; as the U.S. cuts the region off from more and more sources of funding, they have turned to Japan for more foreign aid.

As a result, the Caribbean countries that are members of the IWC voted yet again in complete accordance with the Japanese, and even went so far as to join in the Japanese staged walk-out in protest of a resolution on dall's porpoise, which called on Japan to decrease its kills of this small black and white porpoise, of which more than 18,000 are killed each year.

The weekend prior to the opening of the IWC plenary meeting saw a celebration of whales and their habitat. Oceanfest started the day with a delightful sand art contest. The children had a great time. The art was very imaginative, and while digging in the sand many new questions were born in the minds of the children. The Youth Development Center was set up to see and hear about whales, and an estimated 250 people attended. Cetacean Society International played an important role in Oceanfest's attempts to bring a positive message about whales to the people of Grenada. We maintained a booth throughout the day, and ran a non-stop slide show presentation that CSI has used in its educational programs in the U.S. In addition, as people entered the Center, they were greeted by the sounds of humpback whales taped by CSI Board Member Paul Knapp during his annual research excursions to Tortola. For many it was their first chance to hear what Caribbean humpbacks sound like, and it thrilled them all and led to much discussion. In the evening, a thirteen piece reggae band had many of the NGOs and Delegates dancing while the locals sat and watched the fun. As stated, this year's IWC was more victorious than not, and clearly showed the extent to which Japan is willing to go in order to maintain whaling.

Go to next article: Update on CITES or: Table of Contents.

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