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Whales' Fate Hangs on Whaling Commission Power Struggle
MADEIRA, Portugal, June 24, 2009 (ENS) - A paper released today by the International Whaling Commission shows that Japan kills more whales than any other country, although Japan is a signatory to the international ban on commercial whaling, which took effect in 1986. Since then, Japan has killed about 12,000 whales, under a provision in the convention which permits whaling for scientific research purposes.
Minke whale is weighed aboard a Japanese vessel in the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)

The paper "Catches by IWC member nations in the 2008 and 2008/2009 seasons," released by the commission at its week-long annual meeting shows that Japan killed 1,004 whales out of a total of 1,936 whales killed during this period.

"Japan's fraudulent 'scientific' whaling program continues to be on a scale unmatched by other countries like Norway or Iceland which refused to sign onto the moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982 at the IWC," said Sara Holden of Greenpeace International, who is in Madeira for the IWC annual meeting.

A separate report provided by the Japanese government about its 2008-09 whale hunt in Antarctica, made public at the IWC meeting Tuesday, shows that a high number of pregnant and lactating females were killed.

Of 679 whales reported killed in the Southern Ocean, part of which is an Australian Whale Sanctuary, 304 were female, and of these, 192 were pregnant and four were lactating.

Humane Society International "strongly condemns this hunt which is conducted in a whale sanctuary under the guise of science," said HSI Vice President Kitty Block. "The fact that this hunt is commercial and killing pregnant and lactating females makes it all the more egregious."

Whaling Nations Adamant

The commission's 85 member governments opened the 61st IWC annual meeting Monday, after a year of closed-door discussions that have failed to secure agreement from whaling nations Japan, Iceland and Norway to respect the commission's scientific procedures and commercial whaling ban.

The Small Working Group on the Future of the International Whaling Commission, SWG, meeting under the chairmanship of Ambassador Alvaro de Soto has attempted to resolve the fracture between whaling nations and conservation nations. But the group has reached no agreement on the shape of a core package or even on the concept of how to approach the issues.

Japan's IWC Delegation head Akira Nakamae (Photo courtesy WPRFMC)
Akira Nakamae, who heads the Japanese delegation, said significant progress on defining the future IWC has been made over the past year and Japan is now looking to next year's IWC meeting for "resolution."

"We believe that the momentum should not be lost. Therefore, Japan will continue to support the Future of the IWC process and to engage in the discussions constructively," said Nakamae. He stressed that "compromise by all members is required if the difficulties clouding the Future of the IWC are to be overcome."

We are concerned," said Nakamae, that "Some discussions have been conducted from the viewpoint that all whaling is wrong and therefore should be discontinued. Japan strongly disagrees with this position."

"Like other living resources, whales can be utilized in a sustainable manner, when appropriate conservation and management measures, based on best scientific evidence and with the best available tools, are applied," he said. "Japan has expressed its willingness to accept such measures, including the placement of international observers on board whaling vessels, the deployment of satellite based real-time vessel monitoring systems, market monitoring with DNA finger prints, among others."

"There is no reason to treat whales in a different manner from other animals and to exempt whales from the universally accepted principle of sustainable use," said Nakamae, repeating Japan's position that "whaling issues should be treated from a scientific rather than an emotional perspective."

But Japan's position failed to attract majority support. IWC members could only agree to postpone for one year the decision on whether to allow Japan to hunt whales in its coastal waters in return for scaling down or ending its "research whaling" in the Antarctic Ocean.

Patrick Ramage, whale program director for International Fund for Animal Welfare, expressed the conservationist point of view. "Such a deal would violate the moratorium and established scientific procedures, legitimize Japan's ongoing 'scientific' whaling and ignore decades of work by the IWC Scientific Committee."

"The European Union must oppose such a deal and take a strong stand in support of the moratorium on commercial whaling. European legislation and European citizens are clearly against whaling and must continue to lead internationally on this issue," said Veronica Frank, EU whale program director for IFAW. "The future of the IWC is conservation science, not commercial slaughter."

"Our planet's great whales face more threats today than at any time in history," said Ramage. "It's time to get rid of commercial whaling, not the whaling ban."

Whale Watching a Growth Industry

A new report released Wednesday by the International Fund for Animal Welfare documents growth in the global whale watching industry over the past decade.

Whale watchers and a humpback whale off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada. (Photo by Daniel.Berlin)

The country-by-country economic analysis by Economists at Large and Associates of Melbourne, Australia shows more than 13 million people took whale watching tours last year in 119 countries worldwide, generating ticket fees and tourism expenditures of more than €1.5 billion during 2008.

Growth of the whale watching industry in Asia, the Pacific, South America, the Caribbean and Europe outpaced global tourism growth rates over the past decade, the report shows. More than 3,000 whale watching operations around the world now employ an estimated 13,200 people.

Australian Environment Minister Peter Garrett welcomed the new report, which Australia is formally introducing to government delegations attending the Madeira IWC meeting.

"At a time when our global economy, our planet's great whales and international whale conservation efforts are all under threat, it is encouraging to see coastal communities across Australia, the Asia Pacific region and worldwide reaping massive benefits from the dynamic growth of this form of ecotourism," he said. "The bottom line is clear. Whales are worth much more alive than dead," said Garrett.

"Responsible whale watching is the most sustainable, environmentally-friendly and economically beneficial use of whales in the 21st century," he said.

An Humane Society petition calling for a global whale sanctuary is being sent to leaders of IWC member countries to promote sanctuaries and whale watching as a more humane and scientifically sound economic alternative to whale hunting.

Iceland Kills Endangered Fin Whales

Japan is not the only country killing whales regardless of the moratorium. In Iceland on Friday, two fin whales were killed, landed and cut up at the quayside at the old Hvalförđur whaling station. They represent the first of a planned quota of 150 fin whales, a species listed as Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN.

Iceland brings first fin whales to land. June 19, 2009. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)

The hunt was initiated by the former government of Iceland shortly before it collapsed earlier this year, but the new Icelandic government of Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir has failed to prevent the fin whale hunt from going ahead.

"The government has dismally failed to show leadership despite its own outspoken opposition to the hunt, said Holden of Greenpeace. "Today it is clear that the whaling policy in Iceland is really run by the whaler Kristjan Loftsson and his company Hvalur ehf. But what little profit he may make from this fin whale hunt will come at great cost to Iceland - economically and politically."

The tension between financially lucrative whale watching and the reputation and conservation damage done by whale hunting is expected to surface during Iceland's negotiations to join the European Union.

Opinion polling and independent economic research in Iceland has revealed little or no appetite for whale meat, IFAW points out. Yet, historically the Icelandic government has fought all calls to match EU laws that ban whale hunting.

"The EU must follow its own laws and the will of the European people in demanding that all Icelandic whaling stop as a condition of entry into the EU," said IFAW's Frank.

"While governments debate what to do about whales, their citizens are pointing the way," said Frank. "We should be conserving whales in 2009 and shooting them with cameras, not compromising conservation measures and expanding commercial whaling. Animals, people and the global economy all do better when whales are seen and not hurt."

Some Whale Populations Recovering

The IWC Scientific Committee reports that some large whale populations are on the increase after centuries of commercial whaling.

Humpback whale breaches at sunset off the coast of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador. (Photo by Laura Travels)

The committee said it was "particularly pleased to complete its assessment of Eastern African humpback whales which have recovered to over 65 percent of their pre-exploitation size."

The committee also reported positive evidence of increases in abundance for several other populations of humpback, blue and right whales in the Southern Hemisphere, although several remain at reduced levels compared to their pre-whaling numbers.

Special attention was paid to the status of the Endangered Western North Pacific gray whale, whose feeding grounds coincide with oil and gas operations off Sakhalin Island, Russian Federation. The population numbers only about 130 animals.

The committee and the IWC welcomed the results of a range wide workshop conducted under the auspices of IUCN and endorsed its recommendations, especially that concerning the development of a conservation plan.

Support was given to a major initiative to obtain information vital to developing effective mitigation measures via a satellite telemetry programme. Commission members agreed to work together to try to mitigate human threats to this endangered population. The IWC also recognized the value of continuing to cooperate with the scientists of the IUCN Western Gray Whale Advisory Committee.

Australia Funds Small Whale Conservation

Large whales often attract the most attention, but today the world's small whales, dolphins and porpoises found a champion.

Australia's Environment Minister Garrett pledged AU$500,000 (€284,927) to help save these smaller cetaceans. The money will be dedicated to the IWC's Small Cetacean Fund. It is but one-third of the country's contribution to the International Whaling Commission. The larger amount will also fund the Southern Ocean Research Partnership and conservation management plans.

"For many small cetaceans the scientific information available is so limited that we are unable to make informed decisions on their conservation status," Garrett said.

Garrett's announcement coincided with the release of a new report entitled "Small Cetaceans: The Forgotten Whales," produced by the global conservation organization WWF.
A dolphin leaps from the sea off the California coast. (Photo by Ed Furry)

"It's time that someone stood up for the underrepresented whales, dolphins and porpoises," said Dr. Susan Lieberman, director of the Species Programme for WWF-International. "Australia's commitment is a step in the right direction and we call upon other governments to follow suit."

Small whales are disappearing from the world's oceans and waterways as they fall victim to fishing gear, pollution, and habitat loss - compounded by a lack of conservation measures such as those developed for great whales, according to the WWF report.

The WWF report states that while great whales are now somewhat protected by the international commercial whaling moratorium, small cetacean hunts continue in many countries, largely unmanaged and unchecked by the international community.

In addition, dolphins living in parts of the Mekong River between Cambodia and Laos are on the brink of extinction due to pollution, WWF warned Friday.

The Irrawaddy dolphin population has suffered 88 deaths since 2003, of which 58 were calves under two weeks old, bringing the latest population to an estimated 64 to 76 animals.

WWF researchers found high toxic levels of pesticides such as DDT and environmental contaminants such as PCBs along with mercury in its analysis of 21 dead dolphins retrieved between 2004 and 2006.

Belgian IWC Commissioner Alexandre de Lichtervelde called for a review of work on conservation and management for small cetaceans to take place before the next IWC annual meeting in 2010. Belgium will produce a collaborative paper as its contribution to the discussions on the future of the IWC.

Sea Shepherd Plans Its 2009 Southern Ocean 'Research' Expedition

With a new, faster ship as well as its flagship Steve Irwin, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society will return to the Southern Ocean in December to renew its efforts to keep the Japanese whaling fleet from killing whales, Captain Paul Watson said today.

"This is a research project," said Watson, with a smile. "We've decided to demonstrate our solidarity with the Japanese, Australian and New Zealand Research projects. Our primary objective is to research non-lethal means for defending whales. Of course this may include research into ship's hull plate thickness, hull stress tests, and paint chip analysis, as well as observation of whaler behavior in response to olfactory stimulation."

Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin, foreground, blocks Japanese whalers in the Ross Sea. February 2009. (Photo courtesy SSCS)

During the past two whaling seasons, Watson has mounted campaigns against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean that featured crew members lobbing containers of harmless but stinky butyric acid and slippery goo aboard the whaling ships. Watson's ship has collided with Japanese vessels during these encounters. Each side blames the other for the collisions.

This year, said Watson, Sea Shepherd will be sending two ships to the Southern Ocean, the upgraded and fully repaired Steve Irwin and the fast interceptor vessel Earthrace.

On board will be an Animal Planet film crew to document the third season of the documentary series "Whale Wars," shown on the Discovery Channel.

"We are taking the most powerful anti-whaling weapon at our disposal: a film crew," said Laurens de Groot, a Sea Shepherd Netherlands director. "The cameras are more powerful than cannons and our ammunition is the naked truth about illegal whaling. We intend to keep the focus on Japanese crimes and we intend to sink the Japanese whaling fleet - economically."

An international crew of volunteers will crew the ships to the Southern Ocean but this year's campaign, nicknamed "Waltzing Matilda," will have an Australian face.

"Australians are the most passionate whale defenders on the planet," said Watson. "Operation Waltzing Matilda will reflect our gratitude to Australia for the incredible support we have received from the people of this wonderful nation since 2005. The Steve Irwin will depart in December from Western Australia with the majority of the crew being Australians."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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