Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. X No. 3 - July 2001

The IWC: The Fate of the Whales in the Balance

By Kate O'Connell, CSI Board

As you read this article, Norwegian whaling is being conducted in the North Atlantic, targeting the tiny minke whale. The season began on the 9th of May, and involves some 30 boats. Up to 549 whales could be killed before the season comes to an end in August. If the hunt proceeds as usual, nearly 25 percent of the whales taken will not die instantly, but rather will suffer a prolonged death. And for the first time in years, the meat and blubber from Norwegian whales could actually be sold in foreign commercial markets.

In January, Whales Alive! reported that the Norwegian government had decided to ignore the ban on international trade in whale products put into place by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), and to offer whale products for sale, particularly to Japan. Unfortunately, this announcement has had a dramatic effect on the price of whale blubber in Norway. The price for Norwegian minke whale blubber has skyrocketed to 57 kroner (approximately US$6.30) per kilo. Last year the minimum price for blubber was only 0.10 kroner.

There is good news, however, in that the British government has come out strongly, protesting a Norwegian proposal to do whale surveys in UK waters. On the 27th of June, the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), strongly criticized Norway for its "confrontational stance" both at the IWC and at CITES. As a result of the recent Norwegian decisions (1) to use a less conservative management level to get an increased quota (see Whales Alive!, January 2001) and (2) to resume exports of whale products in defiance of the CITES ban, DEFRA announced that it was cancelling a permit that would have allowed Norwegian researchers to count whales in British waters. DEFRA said that the survey "was intended to provide data to enable Norway to continue whaling, and so was not in the best interests of whale conservation."

Norway is not alone in its whaling. On the 10th of May, Japanese vessels set out to undertake a so-called "research" hunt in the North Pacific, hunting not only minke whales, but also the endangered sperm and Bryde's whales. Fortunately, reaction was swift, and condemnatory. On May 14th, the US State Department issued a strongly worded statement criticizing the Japanese research hunt, and implying that Japan could well face economic sanctions if the hunt continues. In the recent round of meetings between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, the whaling issue was again raised, and the US again asked that Japan halt its expanded research whaling, or face possible sanctions.

At the end of May, several CSI Board members travelled to Boston, Massachusetts to join in a protest against Japanese whaling, and its link to a venerable US clothing institution, Talbots. (See following article.) Talbots is an extremely popular clothing chain that has close and unfortunate ties to Japan's whale and dolphin hunts. Talbots majority shareholder is JUSCO (USA), a wholly owned subsidiary of JUSCO Ltd. of Japan. JUSCO is a major distributor of cetacean meat throughout its network of supermarkets in Japan. The campaign to try to persuade JUSCO to end its sale of whale, dolphin and porpoise products was spearheaded by the Environmental Investigation Agency, and supported by Greenpeace and the Humane Society of the United States. CSI is supportive of their efforts, and we urge all of our members to contact their local Talbots store to question the company on its link to JUSCO, and Japanese whaling policy.

* * *

The return of full-scale commercial whaling is closer to being a reality than at any time in the past fifteen years. As the International Whaling Commission (IWC) approaches its Annual Meeting in London at the end of July, a combination of forces and events seem to be conspiring to tip the scales in favor of a lifting of the moratorium on commercial whale hunting.

Since the last meeting of the IWC - the Revised Management Scheme Working Group meeting held in February - pro-whaling forces have gained three new members at the Commission. Morocco, Panama and Iceland have joined the IWC, and are hoping to vote in the upcoming meeting. If all three are allowed to vote, the whalers will come perilously close to having a simple majority at the Commission. Concerns have also been raised that other nations, namely Peru, Namibia and the Philippines (which has paid back nearly all of its past dues to the IWC in recent months) might also come to the IWC with a vote.

All of this is a result of a concerted effort by the whalers to bring new members into the Commission, and thus seek to overturn nearly two decades of conservation management designed to protect the great whales from the hunting excesses of the past. Whales Alive! readers will recall earlier articles talking about the use of foreign aid by Japan to change the voting tallies at the IWC; unfortunately, this "aid for votes" gambit appears to be paying off.

The Icelandic adherence to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW, the treaty that governs the work of the IWC) is causing a great uproar, and is the subject of much legal wrangling. In their June 6th letter to the US State Department, notifying them of their decision to "join" the IWC, Iceland quite clearly states that it is joining the IWC with a reservation, or objection, to the commercial whaling moratorium. The reason for all of the concern, however, is that Iceland was once a member of the IWC. In its prior incarnation, Iceland did not object to the moratorium, and from the time the ban entered into force in 1986, Iceland has been legally bound by that ban. Iceland left the Commission in 1991.

If Iceland is allowed to rejoin the IWC with an objection to a paragraph that it had previously accepted, it would set an awful precedent for international law. Any country not liking the management and conservation decisions of a treaty could simply withdraw for a period of time, and then come back in with a reservation. If Iceland succeeds, and joins the Commission with a reservation to the whaling ban allowed, it will to all intents and purposes render international environmental laws useless.

* * *

The IWC meeting in London will perhaps be the most important one since the 1982 meeting that put the moratorium into place. At the heart of the debate will be the discussions on Iceland, the Revised Management Scheme (RMS - see Dr. Barstow's article), and the formation of two new whale sanctuaries, one in the South Pacific and the other in the South Atlantic. What is clear is that this meeting will define the future for whales for decades to come.

On June 26th, three members of the US Congress introduced a resolution calling on the Bush Administration to take strong action against Norway and Japan for their whaling activities. Reps. Miller (CA), Delahunt (MA) and Smith (NJ) introduced the resolution as a reaction to "Japan's persistent efforts to defy world opinion...and Norway's recent announcement to begin trading in products despite prohibitions of the products by the CITES Convention." The resolution states that: "given the current status of most whale populations, the President should consider all other actions, including bilateral negotiations and sanctions, to eliminate all commercial and lethal scientific whaling and prevent any trade in whale meat."

In presenting the resolution, Rep. Miller cited a public opinion poll that had been conducted by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). The IFAW poll showed overwhelmingly that US citizens are opposed to Japanese and Norwegian whaling (83%), and that 72% would support a boycott of Japanese and Norwegian companies linked to commercial whaling.

* * *

We urgently ask all Whales Alive! readers to contact their local Congressperson and ask that they support the resolution (H.Con.Res. 180), and also to contact the White House and ask that the US take strong action against both Norway and Japan for their whaling in defiance of international conservation treaties. In addition, we ask readers to contact their Senators, as a similar resolution, S.Res. 21, has also been introduced in the Senate.

Look in your local phone book blue pages for Congressional contacts, or check the following web sites:



President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

TEL: 202-456-1414

FAX: 202-456-2461


Go to next article: Protest Against Talbots in Boston or: Table of Contents.

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