Whaling Moratorium Holds for Another Year
SORRENTO, Italy, July 23, 2004 (ENS) - Whale
conservationists won several victories this week at the
International Whaling Commission annual meeting that wound up here
Thursday, but other battles were lost to pro-whaling interests.
The 18 year long moratorium on commercial whaling is still in
place, but there will be no whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific
or the South Atlantic at least for another year.
Still, the 57 member commission reaffirmed the Southern Ocean
sanctuary by rejecting a bid by Japan and other pro-whaling
nations to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling in the
Japan proposed to take another 3,000 minke whales, seven times its
current amount, as commercial catch. Japan sought that quota in
addition to the 440 minkes that Japanese whaling vessels take from
the Southern Ocean each year under the scientific whaling
exemption to the moratorium imposed by the International Whaling
Commission (IWC) in 1986.
"There was no sell-out in Sorrento. The push to pave the way
for a resumption of full-scale commercial whaling has failed,"
said International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) President Fred
O’Regan, an accredited NGO delegate at the meeting.
"IFAW welcomes the initial progress of the new IWC
Conservation Committee and the IWC’s re-affirmation of the
Southern Ocean Sanctuary. We are also encouraged by the increased
attention now being given to the threat vote buying poses to the
transparency and accountability of the IWC," O’Regan said.
But the allegations of vote buying advanced by IFAW and other
whale conservation groups at the meeting offended Japan and other
In response to their complaints, Acting IWC Chairman Roland
Schmitten of the United States announced the creation of an IWC
working group to develop a "code of conduct," including
measures for expulsion of NGOs, to be chaired by Iceland, a
Schmitten said that the NGOs had made "unsubstantiated
statements" that had offended some commissioners and
disrupted the work of the commission.
"The IWC is not being disrupted by NGOs, it is being
disrupted by vote buying," said O’Regan. IFAW and other
NGOs provided data and analysis on Japanese vote buying within the
IFAW, Greenpeace and other NGOs allege that Japan offers fisheries
aid to poor coastal countries in exchange for their support of
Japan's whaling policies. Japan has "bought" 16 friends
at the IWC in this way, Greenpeace says, including six eastern
Caribbean states - Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St
Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts and Nevis - the
Solomon Islands and Guinea. All of these countries speak in favor
of a resumption of commercial whaling, voting with Japan at all
WWF expressed "extreme disappointment" at the tactics
used by Japan and its allies at the IWC which led to the failure
to create a South Pacific whale sanctuary for the third year in a
"The wishes of the region have been ignored," said Chris
Howe, conservation director at WWF-New Zealand. "This
sanctuary would have provided enormous benefits to both whales and
people in the Pacific but once again it was blocked by countries
taking orders from Tokyo."
Japan and the majority of its allies, including new recruits
Mauritania and Tuvalu, voted against the proposal along with other
WWF says rejection of the sanctuary proposal is an instance in
which Japan's vote buying worked to its advantage.
The sanctuary would cover around 26 million square kilometres of
the Pacific, south of the equator. Many whale populations in the
Pacific remain depleted as a result of past commercial whaling,
WWF says, such as the humpback whales that have failed to reappear
in significant numbers in their former breeding grounds in Fiji,
Vanuatu, Samoa, and New Zealand.
New Zealand's IWC commissioner Geoffrey Palmer objected to Japan's
taking of hundreds of whales annually for "scientific"
purposes, despite the moratorium. "It's widely known that
scientific whaling is practiced for improper, non-scientific
motives," said Palmer, who is a former prime minister.
Japan's commissioner Minoru Morimoto said that New Zealand could
take the matter up with the International Court of Justice.
Australia's new Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, also
attacked Japan and Iceland over plans to increase the slaughter of
whales under the guise of scientific research.
"This generation has a responsibility to rebuild the health
of the world's oceans," Campbell said. "Saving whales is
an iconic representation of that work. Killing whales in the name
of science is an affront to science. It is not science – it is
Campbell said that since Australia abandoned whaling 25 years ago,
the population of humpbacks in its coastal waters had grown from
an estimated 500 to at least 10,000.
While some species, such as humpback whales, appeared to be
increasing well, other species such as blue whales were still
estimated to be less than one per cent of their original numbers.
Campbell said he was alarmed to learn that Japan is to increase
its catch of minke whales to over 800 next year. Norway also is
likely to take 670 minke whales this year under its reservation to
the moratorium on commercial whaling and this week submitted a
plan to more than double its hunt. Iceland would target 25 minke
whales this year and has not ruled out expanding its program.
"Commercial whaling continues to expand in the face of the
moratorium, despite repeated requests from the IWC for the
practice to end," Campbell said.
The High North Alliance, a pro-whaling organization based in
Denmark's Lofoten Islands, said the fundamental issue is
resumption of the management of whaling under the Revised
Management Scheme (RMS).
Anti-whaling nations Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Germany
said that they would like to see the Revised Management Scheme
adopted, but not implemented, as they wish to maintain the
moratorium beyond the adoption of the scheme.
Pro-whaling nations fail to see the logic of discussing the
Revised Management Scheme if there is no intention to lift the
The IWC did adopt by consensus a resolution providing that it will
move "expeditiously" towards the completion of both the
drafting of text and technical details of the Revised Management
Scheme" for discussion at next year's IWC meeting in Ulsan,
The resolution also expresses that the IWC is, "Concerned
that the failure to reach broad agreement on the RMS in the near
future may seriously jeopardise the ability of the IWC to fulfil
"By blocking the IWC to resume its management tasks, the
anti-whaling countries force the whaling nations to conduct
whaling outside of IWC control," said Rune Frøvik, secretary
to the High North Alliance.
On Thursday, the commission discussed the development of its new
Conservation Committee, established at last year’s meeting in
Berlin. While some delegates argued that the IWC should not focus
on conservation, the commission maintained that it has a clear
mandate for the conservation of whales.
This year the IWC Scientific Committee considered the impact on
whales of noise from seismic testing used by the oil and gas
industry, and of military sonar. Loud sonar signals used by the
military to locate enemy submarines are responsible for increasing
numbers of whales being stranded on beaches and dying, the
scientific committee said in its report.
Sue Fisher of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said,
"Unfortunately, whales face a huge range of threats today,
including chemical and noise pollution, vessel strikes and bycatch
in fishing nets. The impact of whaling on whale populations cannot
be considered in isolation and must be addressed in light of the
whole range of threats."