Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive! - Vol. XII No. 2 - April 2003


It's a Wonder the International Whaling Commission Survives


According to the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun, "Chances are, next time you eat whale meat it is loaded with toxins". The Health Ministry has declared 10 percent of whale meat for sale or used in school lunches in Japan is mislabeled, and found that many samples contain unacceptable levels of toxic chemicals, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and methyl mercury. PCB's in five Baird's beaked whales from the North Pacific were over 20 times provisional limits, and over four times the acceptable mercury limit. Antarctic minke whale meat surveyed was still within health limits to sell.

That's why the five ships of the Japanese whaling fleet returned to their home ports in early April, with the remains of 400 minke whales killed during a five-month "scientific" expedition in Antarctic waters. Everyone knows that this is commercial whaling, no matter what the label. More than 22,890 whales have been killed Japan, Iceland, South Korea, Norway and the former Soviet Union for edible "science", or in objection to a whaling moratorium passed by the IWC in 1987. The latest research will show that the whales ate krill, which everyone knows, but the meat, worth millions, will soon be packaged for sale. The subsidy cost of the whaling expeditions, about US$8,000,000 for each of the past 17 years, is a matter of pride to the government.

Iceland is aggressively seeking an agreement to sell whale meat to Japan. Anticipating success, in early April Iceland submitted a two-year plan to the IWC for "scientific research", intending to kill 100 minke, 100 fin and 50 sei whales. Although fin and sei whales are officially endangered, and Iceland struggled to join the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 2000, it is expected to ignore the CITES ban on international trade in these endangered species.

Iceland's admission to the IWC at last October's special closed-door meeting was also extremely controversial. The nation was allowed to vote for itself while asserting that it was exempting itself from the moratorium on commercial whaling. Sweden later tried to withdraw its vote for Iceland as a "mistake". In disgust, Australia recently established their right to bring any whaling by Iceland before the IWC as an infraction, declaring, "The Government of Australia considers that the reservation [to the ban on commercial whaling] is prohibited as it is incompatible with the object and purpose of the Convention".

While Iceland's commercial whaling policy has bubbled just below the surface for several years, CSI and many other NGOs have actively supported the fast growing whale watch industry. The government knows very well that live whales are worth more than dead whales, that benign whale watching is worth many times what commercial whaling will bring to the nation. Whale watching may be the fastest growing sector of the economy. In 2001 over 60,000 whale watchers contributed US$13,800,000 to the economy. What are the forces compelling Iceland to ignore logic and economics, and to flaunt international agreements they fought to participate in, just so a few people can kill whales?

In the same nonsensical spirit Japan's "Whales Eat Too Many Fish" campaign has continued incessantly despite the lack of logic and science, meant to justify removing competitors for human resources by eating them. They've said it enough that some people actually believe them. To make sure, Japan continues to subsidize several IWC member nations, all of which vote as Japan wants.

There is a dark humor to these attempts to kill more whales. The US Congress joined in the humor recently when they allowed Alaskans exploiting the native subsistence harvest of bowhead whales to deduct up to $10,000 in costs as a charitable deduction, lowering their taxes. As one pundit said: "if it's charitable to save the whales, it's only fair to make it charitable to kill them."

Norway, which already defies the IWC with its commercial whaling, will have begun to sell minke whale meat to the Faeroe Islands when the IWC meets. The 47,000 Faeroes residents make up a semiautonomous Danish territory. They slaughter about 950 pilot whales annually for their meat and blubber, about 30 percent of all meat produced locally in the Faeroes. Although considered a staple, the whale meat is too contaminated to be eaten by pregnant women and small children. A typical minke whale yields about 3,300 pounds, and must also be expected to be contaminated, even at US$8 per pound. But Denmark (including the Faeroes) is a member of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and does not have a reservation to the listing of minke whales on Appendix I of CITES. Therefore, the trade of minke meat from Norway should not be allowed. Stay tuned.

Unconfirmed reports as this newsletter went to press were that a female humpback had been killed and landed in late March, probably at Bequia's new whaling station at Semples Cay. In past years Bequia has been given IWC quotas to kill humpbacks, and their preferred method is to attack a calf and then kill the defending mother.

With all the conflicts, like the current ones above, the 49-nation IWC seems in constant danger of disintegrating, and every year brings the old threats expressed by new assertions. The 55th meeting of the IWC will take place in Berlin, Germany, in June. As the above paragraphs suggest, it can be a numbing, bewildering experience for honorable people to watch nations such as Iceland, Norway, Japan, and all its puppet states act so badly. But with the lives of whales at stake CSI is again grateful to have Board Member Kate O'Connell as our designated Non-Governmental Observer.

With special workshops beginning on 7 June, the Annual Meeting itself will be held 16-19 June. With an IWC schedule deliberately spread out to maximize the burden of NGOs attending, and an 18 percent rise in NGO registration fee, CSI is also grateful for having a membership that understands that CSI needs a little extra help to perform properly at the IWC. Many related public events are scheduled in Berlin, including a swimming pool with LFA sounds piped in, to give the public an idea of what that issue is about. It's a wonder the IWC survives, but it's all we've got. And you're all we've got to get there. Please respond to the only plea for extra funds that CSI mails out to our members, to help us save whales at the IWC.


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