Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 1 January 1998


The 1997 IWC Meeting and Beyond: The Turmoil Continues

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


The 49th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held in the glitzy gambling town of Monte Carlo, Monaco from the 20th through the 24th of October, 1997. CSI was once again very capably represented by Dr. Carole Carlson, whom readers will know as one of our Scientific Advisors, and a leading expert on whale biology. Dr. Carlson also served as an advisor to the US delegation to the IWC's Scientific Committee, and has actively promoted responsible whale watching as a "non-consumptive" use of whales within the IWC. Our heartfelt thanks go out to her for her tireless efforts on behalf of both the whales and CSI!

Although several issues came under discussion at this year's meeting, the highest stakes played in Monaco revolved around the issue of the US proposed take of gray whales by the Makah Native American tribe of Washington state, and a proposal for a so-called high seas whale sanctuary by the head of the Irish delegation, Mr. Michael Canny.

Mr. Canny's proposal for a change in the current commercial whaling moratorium had been under intense discussion for some time prior to the meeting in Monaco, and was first made public in a September press release from the Irish government that called for the creation of a "high seas global whale sanctuary". Further details of the Canny proposal were fleshed out in the Irish opening statement to the 1997 IWC Annual Meeting. One of the main components in the Irish proposal would be the adoption and completion of the Revised Management Scheme (RMS); the RMS is considered to be the cornerstone of pro-whaling attempts to resume commercial whaling. In addition, the Irish proposal calls for the creation of a whale sanctuary for the global high seas. While such an initiative sounds promising at first sight, it would have the result of leaving almost 40% of the world's oceans (that part that is within a nation's Exclusive Economic Zone) outside of the sanctuary.

Japan and Norway are currently the only two nations engaged in whaling of a commercial nature. Both of these governments have opted to use loopholes in the IWC to continue to whale, in spite of the commercial whaling moratorium. Japan kills minke whales in the Antarctic Sanctuary, and in the North Pacific under self-authorized scientific permits. Norway lodged an objection to the 1986 ban, and holds itself to not be bound by the IWC's decisions. Yet meat from both the Norwegian and Japanese hunts are sold in commercial fish markets.

The Irish initiative would attempt to limit - but not ban - any future commercial whale hunts to only Japan and Norway. While at first glance this would seem a credible attempt to restrict whaling, it is doubtful that such a limitation would hold under international law. If the Irish proposal for "limited and regulated" coastal commercial whaling were to go through, most conservation organizations fear that other nations would follow suit. Recent reports by the BBC Worldservice named China, Russia and South Korea as nations "keen to start whaling again".

Readers of Whales Alive! will recall last issue's article on the Australian Task Force on Whaling written by Dr. Robbins Barstow. The Australian government took into account the concerns raised by Dr. Barstow and others in the conservation community, and the Australian delegation to Monaco, under the guidance of Chris Puplick , "upped the ante" on the Irish initiative with a decision to work towards a permanent ban on commercial whaling.

As a result of the work of the Australian National Task Force on Whaling, it was decided that Australia will work towards a global sanctuary under the IWC to include all waters, both EEZs and the high seas, as well as to seek to prohibit scientific whaling. The Australian government also said that it will try and seek an "appropriate definition of aboriginal subsistence whaling" and will oppose any efforts to create any "additional categories of whaling, including coastal whaling".

It is absolutely critical that the IWC take in hand the issue of aboriginal whaling, as more and more requests for subsistence hunts are being brought to the Commission. The most contentious of these newly proposed hunts was that of the Makah tribe of northwest Washington state, which the US first submitted to the IWC in an informal way at the 1995 meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Unlike other subsistence hunts which have been approved by the IWC in the past - hunts which clearly meet the IWC criteria of a "continuing dependence on whales and whaling" - the Makah proposal came from a tribe which last whaled some seventy years ago. At the 1996 IWC Annual Meeting, the Makah proposal to kill gray whales off the US west coast failed to meet the required 3/4 support and was pulled from debate by the United States.

In the Aboriginal Whaling working group meetings held just prior to the 1997 IWC Annual Meeting, the Makah hunt was consistently attacked by large numbers of governments for failing to meet the subsistence requirements called for by the IWC. Seeing that the Makah proposal could not stand on its own merit, the US adopted a strategy that many conservation groups and anti- whaling delegations to the IWC felt darkened the usually bright reputation of the US as a pro-whale nation.

Realizing that they could probably not count on enough votes to gain the necessary 3/4 majority approval for the Makah hunt, the US merged the Makah request for gray whales with that of the Russian Federation. It had been clear from the outset that no government opposed the Russian proposed take of gray whales, and that the IWC recognized a legitimate subsistence need for gray whales by the Russian Chukchi natives. In melding the two requests, the US placed governments in an uneasy position: in denying the Makah quota, the Russian natives would be denied as well.

In the ensuing debate on this issue, more than a dozen governments blasted the US, questioning the merits of the Makah hunt, and many clearly stated that they did not feel the Makah met the criteria for aboriginal subsistence whaling. The US was forced to sit and listen while many of its traditional allies lashed out at the US for even bringing this issue to the IWC before seeking clarification of the whaling rights of the Makah under US law.

While resolution IWC/49/27 on aboriginal takes of gray whales from the north Pacific did pass, there was a critical caveat included: the quota would stand for those native groups whose "need had been recognized". The numerous interventions in the recorded debate of the meeting stating clearly that the Makah hunt did not meet the needs definition of the IWC, mean that any claims by the US of a victory on this issue are overly optimistic. CSI is currently preparing to join a legal effort promoted by Australians for Animals and Breach! aimed at stopping the hunt.

Whales Alive! readers will be aware that many of the Makah Elders, traditionally the cultural guardians of the tribe, have come out against the proposed hunt, often at great personal expense and in the face of threats from their own tribal council. Bearing witness for the Elders to this opposition to the hunt at the 1997 IWC meeting were Alberta Thompson and Mabel "Mae" Smith. Their courage in their convictions came through strongly, and CSI continues to voice their support and respect for these Elders and their family members.

On a positive note for the US, it did play a key role in generating a strong attack on Norwegian whaling. In a "Resolution on Northeastern Atlantic Minke Whales", the Commission reaffirmed its view that commercial whaling should not take place as long as the commercial whaling moratorium remains in effect. Further, the resolution called on Norway to, "halt immediately all whaling activities under its jurisdiction." The fact that the resolution was co-sponsored by a diverse group of more than 10 nations, including the US, Brasil, Mexico and Australia, seems to indicate strongly that world public opinion is still very much against commercial whaling.

Japan, as mentioned earlier, continues to flaunt the IWC commercial whaling ban by issuing itself scientific permits to take minke whales, in spite of consistent criticism of the hunts by both the Commission and its Scientific Committee. This year, such criticism continued, and two separate resolutions on scientific whaling by Japan were put forth, IWC/49/36 on Japanese whaling in the Antarctic Sanctuary and IWC/49/37 regarding Japan's scientific kill of minke whales in the North Pacific.

Both these resolutions clearly state that the scientific programmes used as the basis for these hunts "do not address critically important research needs" for the management of whaling. Further, IWC/49/36 reiterated the IWC decision that nations should not issue research permits that involve lethal takes of whales within sanctuaries, and asked that the government of Japan refrain from further scientific kills of whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary.

Such an attack on the Japanese scientific whale hunts is clearly justified. The science yielded by these hunts is of little or no conservation importance to the minke whale stocks targeted, and the meat from the 540 whales killed still ends up in fish markets in Japan. Estimates show that some 2,000 tons of whale meat were yielded, amounting to sales of almost 100 million dollars. And minke whale meat was not the only thing found for sale in Japanese fish markets. An Earthtrust-sponsored study by Drs. Cipriano and Palumbi of Harvard University showed a growing percentage of dolphin and porpoise meat being sold as "kujira" or whale meat, rising from 14.6% in 1993 to 28.8% in 1996. Also in 1996, over 2% of the samples analyzed came from whale species not presently hunted, perhaps indicating a continuing incidence of pirate whaling.

Each three years, the IWC must elect a new Chairman. It was decided in Monaco that the job would go to Michael Canny of Ireland. On the 22nd of December, the IWC announced that Mr. Canny felt it necessary to convene an informal intersessional meeting of IWC Commissioners in order to "break the impasse in IWC prior to the 50th Meeting in Oman". This crucial meeting will be held in Antigua & Barbuda - which offered to host the meeting - from February 3rd to the 5th, 1998. At stake will be the future direction of the International Whaling Commission, and more importantly, the future of whale populations worldwide.

CSI continues to contend that there is no longer any need for commercial whaling. Whale watching now generates far more income worldwide than does whaling, and the "benefits" of live whales truly mean more to developing economies than whale hunting, which only benefits small, localized communities of whalers in the wealthy countries of Japan and Norway.

CSI wholeheartedly supports and applauds the efforts and statements by such governments as Australia and New Zealand who have come out publicly against commercial whaling, and will continue to provide input to the Australian government's Task Force on Whaling, as that government seeks to ban whaling worldwide.

But do not expect an easy fight. As Senator Robert Hill, Australia's Environment Minister said in a recent interview, "The fight to ban whaling worldwide in 1998 - the International Year of the Ocean - will be just as tough as the climate change debate which dominated the international environment calendar this year."

And the fight will only continue to be possible with the vocal support of members and supporters such as you. So get active, and help CSI push the global ban on whaling, along with Australia and New Zealand! Call your US Senators, e-mail the President, fax the Australian embassy in Washington DC and speak up in support of the abolition of commercial whaling. With your help, we can see to it that the 21st century is free of commercial whaling, forever.


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