Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. X No. 4 - October 2001


IWC 2001

By Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


The 2001 Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) this July in London was a study in contradictions. When looking at the long list of positive and proactive resolutions that came out, a case could well be made for the meeting having been one of the more productive in recent IWC memory. The moratorium on whaling remains in effect, small cetaceans received the strongest support ever, environmental threats to cetaceans were highlighted, and the votes on the proposed whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic fared better than expected. Although the Sanctuaries did not pass, it should be kept in mind that it took several years before the Southern Ocean Sanctuary finally passed.

Yet beneath the surface and behind the scenes, the meeting, held at the Novotel Hotel in London's Hammersmith section, often simmered with tensions, frustrations and anger. The opening day of the plenary was incredibly difficult, focussed mainly on whether or not Iceland (which had withdrawn from the Commission in the early 90's) should be allowed to rejoin the IWC with a reservation on paragraph 10e, the language enshrining the indefinite ban on commercial whaling. Iceland had agreed to abide by the commercial whaling ban, opting not to exercise its right to object to the moratorium within the 90 day objection period stipulated under the terms of the Whaling Convention.

The matter goes far beyond the mere issue of Iceland and the IWC, as it represents an attack on how international treaty law itself functions. Imagine the potential for chaos if any country could decide to opt out of a convention and then opt back in with a reservation to any decision with which it doesn't agree; international law would be relegated to the whims and winds of changing government administrations, rather than providing a continuing and solid basis for binding international action.

After intense and heated debate, the Commission decided by a tight 19 to 18 vote that it did indeed have the legal competence to determine the issue of Iceland's proposed reservation to 10e; this was followed by a US/Australian motion to reject Iceland's reservation. While the latter motion passed 19 to 0, with 3 abstentions, the pro-whaling bloc (PR of China, Japan, Korea, Norway, the Caribbean Islands, Guinea, Panama, Solomon Islands, and Morocco) stated that they would "not participate" in the vote to show their anger at the decision.

Iceland was then asked by the Chairman to attend the meeting in capacity as a nonvoting observer nation. This ruling was then challenged by the whalers. In the subsequent vote, the Chairman's ruling was upheld by 18 votes to 16 votes with 3 abstentions (1 country was absent for the vote). The Icelandic delegation took every opportunity throughout the meeting to state what its vote "would have been" if it had been recognized as a voting member. Needless to say, the vote would have been pro-whaling in every instance.

On a positive note, the International Whaling Commission has begun to recognize the impacts of environmental changes, and potential threats to cetaceans. In 2000, the Commission provided initial funding for research into the effects of chemical pollutants on whales (POLLUTION 2000+), as well as a project looking at potential habitat degradation and prey diminution for baleen whales in the Southern Ocean. The latter project (SOWER 2000) was undertaken in conjunction with CCAMLR, the treaty organization dedicated to the conservation of Antarctic living marine resources. The IWC has now issued a challenge to governments and institutions to provide additional funding for further work on environmental issues.

Despite the whalers' consistent claims that the IWC is far too polarized an organization to allow for work to take place, it must be noted that at different points throughout the meeting there was indeed opportunity to find common ground. Japan and the United States jointly proposed a resolution touching on the issue of cetacean/fisheries interactions, and endorsing the Scientific Committee's plans to hold a workshop to look at these issues. The resolution passed by consensus.

Additionally, the Commission encouraged governments to ratify and abide by the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, as well as a resolution on the need for habitat protection and coastal zone management. Norway in particular provided constructive debate on the last resolution. Unfortunately, Japan and many of its "bloc" reserved their views on these resolutions, in spite of mounting evidence that the world's oceans - and the whales - are suffering the impacts of human induced environmental changes.

The IWC also recognized that, despite years of protection (in same cases decades) many whale stocks have not recovered from over exploitation by the whaling industry. Gray whales in the western Pacific, northern right whales, and certain stocks of both the blue and the bowhead whale number fewer than 500 animals. In addition to the impacts of over-hunting, entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, and other human induced impacts have kept these stocks in perilous condition. As a result of these concerns, the Commission passed a resolution expressing its concern over the status of the western North Pacific gray whale, as well as a resolution on the incidental take of whales in fishing activities.

The International Whaling Commission has continued to discuss the development of a Revised Management Scheme (RMS) for commercial whaling, which many conservation groups fear would be a precursor to a resumption of large scale whaling activities. After extensive debate on the RMS at both the intersessional Working Group meeting in Monaco this past February (see Whales Alive!, April 2001) and in London, a number of issues remain outstanding. The whalers continue to balk at the idea of a comprehensive and truly international inspection and observation scheme, and the debate will continue at a special intersessional "Expert Drafting Group" meeting to be held in Cambridge, UK at the end of October, 2001. According to the press release from the IWC Secretariat, the meeting is designed to "develop final text for the inspection and observation scheme".

Yet conservationists hold that the whaling industry is simply not willing nor is it able to be monitored in such a way so as to guarantee the future of the world's whales. In addition to the concerns over the environmental impacts on whales, and the fact that whaling is inherently inhumane, the whaling industry's history is fraught with examples of misreporting and cheating. One of the stories that ran like wildfire through the 2001 Annual IWC Meeting was the publication, by a former Japanese whaling director, of a new book, "The Rise and Fall of Japanese Coastal Whaling". The book provided a grim accounting of how the whalers falsified catch data; for example in 1972, the whaling industry reported killing 2,659 Bryde's whales, while the actual kill was 4,162.

Norway was also the focus of a resolution, in which the Commission urged that government to reconsider its commercial whaling activities and to reconsider granting export permits for whale products (see Whales Alive!, January 2001). One of the key phrases in the document highlighted concerns over the fact that recent reports from Norway indicate that whale blubber is highly contaminated. The resolution passed by a vote of 21 to 15.

Much of the drama of the meeting actually focussed on Japan's supposed use of its development aid programs in order to gain support for its policies within the IWC and increasingly in other international fora. Immediately prior to the IWC gathering, a key Japanese delegate to the IWC, Masayuki Komatsu was quoted by Australian press as saying that there is nothing wrong with Japan's using its overseas aid in order to, "get appreciation of Japan's position". As Whales Alive! readers will know, the number of pro-whaling votes that have joined the IWC in recent years has grown, and, perhaps not so coincidentally, those countries joining depend on a high percentage of their foreign aid from Japan, as well as often having other compelling economic and trade ties to Japan. Panama and the Republic of Guinea joined the Solomon Islands and Caribbean states as the newest members of the pro-whaling bloc. And on the sidelines, attending as observers, were Gabon, Namibia and El Salvador, all indicating an interest in joining the IWC in future, and recent recipients of large grants.

The issue has become so overt that the conservation nations at the IWC, spearheaded by New Zealand's Conservation Minister Sandra Lee, promoted a resolution condemning the use of economic, political or other measures to coerce another state to secure from it advantages of any kind. Ms. Lee was forceful in her statements on the subject of Japanese aid and so-called vote buying: "My Prime Minister and Government view the proposition of vote-buying as outrageous and have publicly said so. Taking advantage of the poverty or vulnerability of developing countries and small island states to buy their votes can only be regarded as a serious misuse of power and influence by a wealthy nation." The resolution passed, and the mere fact that an international treaty felt it necessary to comment on such behavior is a stark statement on the lengths to which the whaling nations are willing to go in order to continue whaling.

Since the so-called moratorium came into effect in 1986, some 21,000 whales have died. Japan has continued to whale in every year since the moratorium, first within the confines of an internationally agreed upon sanctuary and then in the North Pacific targeting minke whales, Bryde's whales and sperm whales. Japan often makes the claim that there are more than 760,000 minke whales, enough for them to take hundreds each year. Dr. Seiji Ohsumi of the Japanese Institute for Cetacean Research, was recently quoted by the BBC as stating that Japan could take up to 2000 minke whales each year for a hundred years in Antarctica, without affecting the population of that species.

Yet the Scientific Committee report for 2001 noted a "precipitous decline" in minke whale numbers in the Southern hemisphere. Indeed, while final numbers are not known as yet, it is thought that the population could be half the 760,000 figure. New Zealand Commissioner Jim McClay raised the issue with the Commission, and also noted that the Scientific Committee, "raised further doubts about the usefulness of data obtained from [Japan's] so-called `scientific whaling'." Both of Japan's "scientific" whaling programs were the topic of resolutions, and, as in past years, the Commission asked the Japanese to refrain from issuing these permits and reiterated its view that in reviewing scientific permits, the Scientific Committee should examine whether the research is required for management or could be carried out using nonlethal means.

As CSI supporters well know, the Society was the first organization to raise the issue of whale watching at the IWC, contending that this ecotourism activity represents the true "optimum utilization" of whale species called for in the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling. In an attempt to underscore this belief, CSI made the unusual move of using a video tape as its statement to Commissioners, rather than the traditional one page written statement. The video, Salt and Friends, was donated to CSI by filmmaker Dan Knaub, and is an incredible look at the society and behavior of several generations of humpback whales so well known to whale watchers off the Massachusetts coast. Dan's video was such a hit, and so many copies were requested, that the Society has undertaken an additional run of the tape to share with all of the delegates and friends who expressed a sincere interest in the film.

While the 2001 meeting was truly a difficult one simply in terms of emphasizing the overwhelming intention of the whalers to push through their agenda by any means fair or foul, there were moments when a more positive and benign sense touched the session. In order to impart one of those moments, it is best to let the words of Wally Stone, a member of the New Zealand delegation, executive director of Whale Watch Kaikoura, and a Maori, stand on their own:

"...today my people strive to protect the whales not only for economic benefit associated with whale watching but because a living whale reminds us of our link to the past. They provide us with a sense of identity, but, more important, hope for the future."


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