Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XI No. 2 - April 2002


IWC: A Challenging Meeting on the Horizon

By Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


Unbelievably, it has been twenty years since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted to enact a ban on commercial whaling, that took effect in 1986. The moratorium, as the ban is known, has never been fully implemented, however, as whaling nations have continued to whale and to sell the products from their hunts on commercial markets. Since the 1982 decision, more than 20,000 whales have died as the whalers defy the IWC, and have continued to kill whales for profit.

With less than a month to go before the IWC 2002 Annual meetings get underway in Shimonoseki, Japan, tensions are escalating as pro-whaling nations continue to defy international advice on the conservation and management of whale populations. Since the last edition of Whales Alive!, both Japan and Norway have stated their intent to increase the numbers of whales they plan to kill. In February, the Norwegian Fisheries Department announced that it would increase the quota of minke whales for its whalers from 549 to 674 animals, a jump of some 23 percent over last year's hunt. Norwegian Fisheries Minister Svein Ludvigsen said that the increase was based on a desire to ensure the "conservation" of the North Atlantic minke whales.

The truth, however, is that Norway is now choosing to use a "tuning level" of .66, rather than a more precautionary and conservationist .72 level. The tuning level is a mathematical "formula" designed by scientists to develop quotas. The higher the level, the fewer the number of whales that can be killed. Norway, in readjusting the tuning level down to .66, has underscored concerns that environmentalists have raised in opposing whaling, that given the commercial pressures to catch enough whales to turn some profit, whaling nations will always choose less strict methods of control. The decision is even more egregious in that the 2001 Annual Meeting of the IWC passed a strong resolution requesting that Norway not use the .66 level, and to end its hunt altogether.

On the heels of the Norwegian announcement came a bombshell from the Japanese. At the end of February, the Japanese declared that they planned to expand their "scientific" whaling program in the North Pacific to include the endangered sei whale. Readers of Whales Alive! will recall that the Japanese have used the guise of scientific whaling to hunt minke whales in the Antarctic (the JARPA hunt), and also to hunt minke, sperm and Bryde's whales in the North Pacific (the JARPN hunt). Both JARPA and JARPN have been consistently challenged by the IWC, and numerous resolutions asking the Japanese to desist from these hunts have been ignored.

Japan, in an attempt to try and justify both its current "research" whaling and a resumption of full-scale commercial whaling, has engaged in an all-out public relations war trying to convince the world that whales need to be culled so that fish stocks may thrive. The Japanese, along with other pro-whaling nations, argue simplistically that fish are being eaten by whales in such huge numbers that commercial fisheries are threatened.

The latest expansion of the JARPN program to include sei whales (listed by the World Conservation Union as endangered) has been described as an attempt to determine the impact of the sei whales' feeding habits on fish stocks in the North Pacific. However, this argument overlooks what has been recognized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), that overfishing by humans has been responsible for the decline in commercially viable fish species worldwide. Most of the baleen whales' diets consist of non-commercially viable marine species such as copepods and krill.

On April 4th, the five ships comprising the Japanese JARPA whaling fleet returned to port after killing 440 southern hemisphere minke whales. The fleet's 75-ton mother ship, the Nisshin Maru, with 115 crew members, and the 368-ton No. 2 Kyoshin Maru, an observation vessel with 20 on board, arrived at Shin Nagasaki port. Two "observation and whaling vessels", including the 812-ton Kyo Maru No. 1, arrived in Shimonoseki port in Yamaguchi Prefecture. This city is to be the site of the upcoming annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in May. The final ship partaking in the JARPA hunt was a vessel operated by the Institute of Cetacean Research, which returned to a port in Hiroshima Prefecture. As has been the case for every Japanese scientific whale hunt since 1987, the products from the hunt will be sold on commercial markets throughout Japan.

In mid-March, a study by researchers from the Health Sciences University of Hokkaido and the Daiichi College of Pharmaceutical Sciences found that cetacean products that they had purchased in markets in Japan showed high concentrations of contaminants. While all of the products were labeled as "whale", the researchers showed that the packages contained boiled dolphin entrails, such as livers, kidneys and lungs.

Of the 26 products bought between 1999 and 2000, two of the packages purchased contained 2,000 micrograms of mercury per gram, nearly 5,000 times higher than the density level considered safe under standards set by Japan's Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. All the remaining products also had mercury levels far higher than the level of 0.4 microgram set by the ministry.

While most of the news coming out of Japan is grim, a recent public opinion poll conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper shows that there is an increasing break between the Japanese Ministry of Fisheries (who claim that there is overwhelming support for its whaling activities) and the reality of Japanese public sentiment. The poll, which was based on some 3000 face-to-face interviews with a wide spectrum of the public, showed that only 4 percent of the population eat whale meat "sometimes". At least a third of those interviewed had never eaten whale meat, while 53 percent had eaten whale "long ago". Most encouraging, however, was the fact that less than half of those interviewed supported Japanese whaling. Clearly, times are changing, and it will be interesting to see how the Japanese public will respond to having the IWC meeting on their home turf.

The Japan Times has also reported that demand for whale meat is down sharply. According to the paper, 30 percent of wholesale minke whale products did not sell, remaining on warehouse shelves. This was the first time that the markets did not sell all of the whale meat since Japan first began its scientific whaling in 1987. The article went on to say that the Institute of Cetacean Research killed 440 minke whales, which generated 725 tons of whale meat for sale. Yet when the meat was put on the markets from July through August of last year, some 220 tons remained unsold as of the end of August. Whale meat is both an expensive delicacy, and as shown by the Asahi Shimbun poll, not a regular component of the Japanese diet, two factors which could help explain the failure of the meat to sell. Further compounding the issue is the concern over contaminants, and human health.

It is not only the hunts of the Norwegians and Japanese, however, which will come under the IWC's scrutiny in Shimonoseki. Subsistence quotas for natives from Greenland, Russia, the US and St. Vincent will be up for discussion, and one of the most controversial of these promises to be the proposal by the Makah tribe of Washington state to take a quota of five gray whales. The last time the Makah killed a gray whale was in 1999. That hunt caused a storm of protest and prompted numerous lawsuits that prevented the Makah from hunting again until now.

The US National Marine Fisheries Service has given the Makah a permit to hunt gray whales yet again, and have extended the option to include the local resident population. Previously, the US had demanded that the Makah only target the transient, migratory gray whales. Many scientists and conservationists are concerned about this move to allow a hunt on what could be an extremely small population of resident grays.

While the overall population of the eastern North Pacific gray whale is numbered at 26,000, there is no scientific information to be had on the size of the resident group. It could number as few as 30, according to Dr. Jim Darling, a Canadian whale biologist. As Whales Alive! goes to press, the Makah have announced that they are ready to begin hunting again, and whaling crews have begun to practice in the waters off Neah Bay, Washington. According to Arne Hunter of the Makah Whaling Commission, as was the case with the previous hunt, the tribe will use two vessels, one a traditional whaling canoe, and the other a modern, high speed vessel to finish the hunt.

Needless to say, the 2002 meeting of the IWC will be fraught with tension, as the whaling nations seek to overturn the commercial whaling moratorium. Key to the success of CSI's push to save the whales from hunting will be the support of conservation-minded countries. We urge all readers of Whales Alive! to contact the Bush Administration, and to make known their opposition to any attempt to remove the IWC's current ban on commercial whaling, and to ask that President Bush take strong action against the Japanese government. Please write to the addresses below. We ask that you send a copy of your message to CSI at: P.O. Box 953, Georgetown, CT 06829 U.S.A.

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Tel: 202-456-1414
Fax: 202-456-2461
Email: president@whitehouse.gov

Secretary of State Colin Powell
U.S. Department of State
Washington, D.C. 20520
Tel: 202-647-4000
Fax: 202-261-8577
Email: Secretary@state.gov


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