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Plan to legitimize Southern Ocean whaling angers conservationists

A draft compromise on whaling released by a working group of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) today set a dangerous precedent that the international community must reject, the Switzerland-based conservation charity WWF said. The compromise fails to secure a future for whales, the Pew Environment Group said in a separate statement. The Pew Environment Group...

A draft compromise on whaling released by a working group of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) today set a dangerous precedent that the international community must reject, the Switzerland-based conservation charity WWF said.

The compromise fails to secure a future for whales, the Pew Environment Group said in a separate statement. The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of the nongovernmental organization The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The environmental groups were reacting to an attempt by the IWC working group to find consensus between countries opposed to whaling and states that support it. The compromise, which will be discussed by a group of IWC countries at a meeting in March, is intended to be adopted by the IWC at its next full meeting in June this year.

“While not agreed, it is the result of a serious effort by countries with significant interests in the conservation and management of whales and has been put forward as a set of ideas as to how the IWC could function in the future,” the architects of the compromise say in the document.

A key component of the compromise is to bring all whaling under the control of the IWC for ten years. The IWC would then set quotas for sustainable commercial hunting.

There has been a moratorium on commercial hunting of whales for nearly 30 years, but Japan, Norway, and Iceland have continued to harvest whales through loopholes such as “scientific research”.

“Since the imposition of the commercial whaling moratorium in 1985/86, over 33,000 whales have been killed by whaling under objection, reservation and special permit–whaling over which IWC has no control. And these takes have been increasing each year. In 1990, just over 300 whales were taken; in 1995 there were around 750 whales taken; in 2000 they were around 1000 whales; and over the last five years takes have been between 1700 and 1900 whales,” the compromise document states. “The objective is to reduce catches significantly and bring them under IWC control.”

Environmental groups do not like the compromise proposal that a sanctuary be set up in the Southern Ocean which appears to open the door to commercial hunting in the Southern Ocean outside the proposed sanctuary.

“While the compromise contains many positive elements for whale conservation that would help bring the IWC into the 21st Century, the compromise could legitimize ‘scientific’ whaling by Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, WWF said.


NGS stock photo by Michael Nichols

“If there is one single place in the world where whales should be fully protected, it is the Southern Ocean,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Manager at WWF-International. “What we need is to eliminate all whaling in the Southern Ocean, including Japanese commercial whaling thinly disguised as ‘scientific research’. But what we have now is a deal which could make it even easier for Japan to continue taking whales in this ecologically unique place.”

The IWC has maintained a ban on all commercial whaling since 1986. But, defying this ban, Japan, Norway and Iceland use loopholes in the IWC’s founding treaty to kill more than 1,500 whales a year, WWF added. The loopholes allow whaling under ‘objection’ to management decisions (Norway and Iceland) and “scientific” whaling for research purposes (Japan).

The IWC also provides special protection to a critical whale feeding area, the Southern Ocean surrounding the continent of Antarctica, which the IWC established as a 50 million-square-kilometer whale sanctuary (19 million square miles) in 1994. This extra layer of protection signifies the importance of this area as the primary feeding habitat of many of the Southern Hemisphere’s whale populations, WWF said.

The proposal announced by the IWF working group today also sets a process in motion that could endorse quotas which haven’t yet had a full and proper scientific review, WWF said. “It is difficult to see how determining quotas through politics rather than science can be considered progress,” Elliott said.


NGS stock photo by Michael Nichols

The positive aspects of the compromise include increased efforts to secure the recovery of depleted whale populations, action on critical conservation threats facing whales such as such as bycatch and climate change, and improved governance and compliance, WWF said. “However, any compromise that may open the door to whaling in the Southern Ocean cannot be accepted by WWF,” the conservation charity declared.

Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, issued the following statement today in response to the efforts to resolve the impasse at the International Whaling Commission:

“The proposed compromise released today by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) fails to respect both the IWC’s 1994 declaration of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary as well as the IWC’s 28-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling. However, it contains many positive elements for whale conservation that finally bring the IWC into the 21st century.

“The Southern Ocean–the environmentally sensitive waters around Antarctica–must be respected as off-limits to any whaling today as well as ten years from now. We are disappointed that the proposed compromise issued today validates Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean.

“Tens of thousands of whales are no longer killed each year because of the moratorium, one of the major victories of the environmental movement and conservation-minded governments. But commercial whaling continues by Japan, Iceland and Norway under the guise of science or in disregard for the moratorium, and will continue with this proposed compromise.

“The threats to whales today from pollution, ship strikes, bycatch in fishing gear, underwater noise, industrial fishing and climate change are greater than they have ever been in the past. For two years, the member countries of the International Whaling Commission have been negotiating to find a way forward, to solve the whaling problem and then address the many other threats to whales across the world’s oceans. The result of these negotiations, released today, does not go far enough to achieve those goals.”

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