Whaling Commission stumbles on UK : July 27, 2001
LONDON - The International Whaling Commission, described by its
own members as
anachronistic, draws down the curtain on its 53rd annual meeting
today after a week of open warfare between pro-and anti-whaling
Phrases such as "spurious", "misleading",
"grossly inaccurate" and "disinformation"
regularly flew across the floor, with truth at times seeming a
As one NGO obeserver at the meeting remarked: "This is the
heart of darkness."
Anti-whaling nations led by Britain, the United States, Australia
and New Zealand always voted together, getting their way on most
They admitted that the IWC had failed to adapt to the 21st century
but said it was all they had to retain some semblance of order in
the world of whaling.
"It is like a whale - old and toothless," British
delegation head Richard Cowan told Reuters. "But it is
something to hang on to."
The IWC's detractors agreed that the organisation had indeed been
left beached somewhere in the mid-20th century when it was born,
but that it would - by their efforts
The unspoken fear on both sides of the fence was that if it was
torn down it would never be rebuilt, leaving uncontrolled killing
of whales to recommence with cataclysmic results.
The organisation, set up in 1946 to protect the great whales that
had been hunted to the edge of annihilation for food, fat and
fashion, made no progress during the week on lifting
the 16-year-old ban it imposed on commercial whaling.
Britain's new Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (recently
recreated from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
after the country's foot-and-mouth disaster) says none of the
great whales - from the gargantuan 150-tonne Blue Whale to the
relatively diminutive 15-tonne Minke - is now in immediate danger
of extinction thanks to the ban.
But the Blue and its 90-tonne Northern Right cousin are classified
as endangered, while the Bowhead, Southern Right, Sei, Fin and
Humpback whales are considered vulnerable.
However, even the degree of endangerment of individual species was
a point of contention.
The IWC confusingly first welcomed back former member Iceland then
amid uproar and
recrimination promptly put it on hold and relegated it to observer
status for refusing to
comply with the commercial whaling ban.
Reykjavik, which quit the IWC nine years ago in disgust at its
anti-whaling stance, rejoined last month but controversially
insisted that it be allowed to resume the hunt.
"It is hard to understand how some find it compatible with
the object and purpose of the
convention to remain as contracting governments after having taken
the clear position that whaling should be banned regardless of the
status of different whale stocks," Stefan Asmundsson,
Iceland's delegation head, told the opening session of the
Japan, which came to the meeting with a 49-member delegation -
more than twice that of
any other nation - and 17 other countries said the IWC was acting
outside its brief by relegating Iceland.
Some of the smaller Caribbean nations flatly accused it of riding
roughshod over national
sovereignty and behaving illegally.
The meeting urged Norway - co-leader with Japan of the pro-whaling
faction in the 43-nation organisation - to cease hunting Minke
whales, a practice it unilaterally resumed in 1993.
Norway shrugged off the weakly-phrased motion as it has done in
The meeting, which resumes next year in Japan, rejected for the
second time in successive years the creation of two new southern
hemisphere whale sanctuaries to add to the existing Indian Ocean
and Southern Ocean sanctuaries.
Such a move would have required a three-quarters majority to have
got through, whereas normal motions require only a simple majority.
As the organisation stumbled through the week with accusations by
that Japan had been rigging results, voting patterns became clear.
The main whaling nations voted together, supported almost always
by the small Caribbean nations, prompting the Greenpeace
environmental group to warn somewhat
excitedly of an imminent resumption of the hunt.
"This buying of votes has gone too far. If it goes on like
this we may be only months away from witnessing the resumption of
full scale commercial whaling," a spokeswoman told Reuters.
Story by Jeremy Lovell
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE