Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VII No. 2 April 1998


On To Oman: The 1998 IWC Meeting

by Kate O'Connell, CSI Board


In our last issue of Whales Alive!, it was reported that a special intersessional meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was to be held in Antigua in the early days of February. Convened by the new Chairman of the IWC, Mr. Michael Canny, the meeting took place from February 3rd through the 5th, 1998. The meeting, billed as an "informal" session of the Commission, was closed to participation by both press and environmental organizations, although Mr. Canny ensured that observers were briefed on a regular basis, and individual governments met with representatives from their own countries, as well.

The meeting was undertaken as a means of analyzing the Irish proposal for the creation of a global high seas sanctuary for whales, and the resumption of limited commercial whaling under IWC auspices. Only seventeen member nations were able to attend the special meeting: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Denmark, Dominica, Finland, Germany, Grenada, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, St. Lucia, Sweden, United Kingdom, and the US.

The lack of participation from so many other countries had been anticipated during discussions at the 1997 IWC meeting in Monaco, and many delegates had feared that it would be difficult for their governments to participate in such a meeting. CSI notes that the entire region of Latin America was not represented, for example, although some nations did field comments with regards to the Irish proposal in the form of written text; it is understood that many of the comments regarding the proposal stood in opposition to the resumption of commercial whaling.

In spite of nearly three days of extensive discussions, no consensus was reached. Japan reiterated its opposition to phasing out scientific whaling, while Norway opposed the idea of prohibiting the export of whale products, and limiting consumption of whale meat to local use. According to those in Antigua during the meeting, it became clear early on that both whaling nations were not interested in accepting key elements of the Irish proposal. From the other side, many governments restated their total opposition to commercial whaling.

According to the official IWC press release issued at the close of the Antigua meeting, it was felt that "a full and frank exchange of views on elements of the Irish proposal" had taken place, but that, "the fundamental positions of the governments were maintained...". The release went on to say that the meeting had clarified certain elements, namely that, "progress was made in reaching a better understanding of national positions."

The 50th meeting of the International Whaling Commission will take place from the 16th through the 20th of May, 1998, in Muscat, Oman. It promises to be a challenging meeting, and will chart the course for the Commission into the next century. Chairman Michael Canny has maintained his proposal on the agenda for the Omani meeting, under the heading of "the Future of the Commission". CSI continues to maintain its absolute opposition to commercial whaling, and to insist that well-managed and well-regulated whale watching is the optimum use of the world's whale resources.

The Society is also concerned with continued and recent moves by the Norwegian government to reopen the international trade in whale meat products. In late October of 1997, a Norwegian whaling company applied to the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries for an export permit for up to 100 tons of minke whale blubber to Iceland. While the Norwegian permit has not been granted - as yet - both Japan and Norway continue to try and down-list the minke whale at CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species; see WA Vol. VI #3, July 1997).

CSI is against any moves to remove whales from the protection of CITES Appendix 1 listing. A recent article by Peter Brazaitis, Myrna Watanabe and George Amato in the March 1998 issue of Scientific American underscores why such opposition is maintained: "Once a prohibited species is put into trade it instantly generates a new market. Without sufficient international controls and the ability to separate what is legal from what is not, the legalization serves simply to sanitize what remains largely an illegal trade."

CSI asks its members and readers to contact the US Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission, Dr. James Baker, and voice your concerns on the attempts to reopen commercial whaling within the IWC. By stating your opposition clearly and decisively, you can help to ensure that the US will take a pro-active role in the push to end commercial whaling.

Dr. D. James Baker
NOAA
14th and Constitution Aves. NW
Room 5128 HCHB
Washington, DC 20230-0001


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