Conflict Intensifies at International Whaling Commission

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 28, 2007 (ENS) - The future of the International Whaling Commission as a whole is at stake this week as delegates from the 75 IWC member nations debate issues that range from the current moratorium on commercial whaling, to Japan's research whaling expeditions that kill hundreds of whales each year.

In its opening statement today, Japan said that because it views the collapse of the IWC as a "real possibility," the government of Japan hosted a conference on "Normalization of the IWC" in February of this year. Half the IWC member nations boycotted the conference, but still the outcome document is on the agenda for discussion by the full IWC this week.

To Japan, normalization means that the IWC is "dysfunctional" because the body originally was established in 1946 to set rules for the harvest of whales. Now that the moratorium is in place the IWC shows "disregard for international law," the normalization conference concluded.

The IWC should drop the moratorium, the normalization conference decided, a position the Japanese delegate repeated in his opening statement in Anchorage today.

Japan says the IWC is dysfunctional because the moratorium excludes whales "from the principle of sustainable use of resources."


Hundreds of Antarctic minke whales like this one are killed every year by Japanese whalers for "scientific research." (Photo courtesy IWC)
In his opening statement, the Japanese delegate said, "The use of cetaceans, like other fishery resources, contributes to sustainable coastal communities, sustainable livelihoods, food security and poverty reduction. Whales should be treated as any other marine living resources available for harvesting subject to conservation and science-based management."

Japan argues that the IWC has become too emotional concerning whales and that negotiations are not carried out in good faith.

Japan, one of the three pro-whaling countries along with Iceland and Norway, is expected to request quotas for hunting minke whales in Japan's coastal waters, with the meat and other whale products to be used for local consumption, similar to quotas allowed to some indigenous groups such as Alaska natives.

Sue Fisher of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society said, "Whale conservation currently faces the biggest onslaught since the ban on commercial whaling was put in place. Not only do pro-whaling countries want to lift the ban on whaling, but they also aim to lift restrictions on international trade in whale products which, if allowed, would once again fuel an uncontrollable slaughter."

Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the group of nations in favor of whale conservation has its work cut out for it this year.

"Japan secured a vote last year in favor of a non-binding resolution supporting commercial whaling. While the resolution has no effect whatsoever on the global moratorium on commercial whaling, it signalled renewed attempts to reopen whaling on a commercial scale," Turnbull said.

Japan plans to add humpback whales like this one to its self-assigned research whaling quota this coming season. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
But the moratorium will not be lifted in the near future, as it would require a three-quarters majority of votes.

This year the narrow balance of power has shifted in favor of conservation with the addition of new IWC members Croatia, Cyprus, Ecuador, Greece, and Slovenia. The only new member nation to lean towards the pro-whaling side is Laos.

The whale conservation nations will attempt to persuade countries to end all scientific and commercial whaling activities, a position supported by Gert Lindemann, undersecretary of state in the German Federal Ministry for Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection.

Speaking with a Greenpeace reporter in Anchorage, Lindemann said that Germany "wants the moratorium on commercial whaling to continue, and I think we have that."

Germany, which holds the Presidency of the European Union through June 30, said Europe wants scientific whaling to be stopped "because we think there are non-lethal methods to get scientific results and it is not necessary to kill whales for scientific reasons."

Germany does not support the Japanese proposal for coastal whaling either. "Japan is trying to connect it with aboriginal whaling, though it is quite different," Lindemann said.

Whale conservation countries today rejected an offer by Japan to drop its planned killing of humpback whales for "scientific research" in return for coastal whaling.

Western Pacific grey whales are threatened by increasing ocean traffic caused by new oil drilling platforms in waters off the shore of Sakhalin Island, Russia. (Photo courtesy FOE UK)
Meanwhile, the IWC Scientific Committee warned today that the population of Western Pacific gray whales is likely to go extinct by 2050. The small population ranges from Korea in the south to the Okhotsk Sea in the north.

These animals are threatened by oil and gas exploration off Russia and are also being caught in nets by Japanese and Korean fishermen.

The population of 150 animals includes only 30 mature females, and four females were killed in Japanese nets this year. The Scientific Committee called this rate of death "completely unsustainable."

Chair of the IWC meeting Bill Hogarth, director of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, says his job is to make sure all delegates feel comfortable and get an opportunity to speak.

Hogarth will chair a shortened session. The IWC meeting will last only four days this year instead of five, because another important international wildlife meeting is scheduled immediately afterwards. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species opens its triennal conference at The Hague June 3.

Greenpeace employees and volunteers march in Anchorage with star of the TV show Heroes, Hayden Panettiere, second from right. (Photo Greenpeace / Walsh)
As delegates to the International Whaling Commission annual meeting gathered Sunday in Anchorage, Greenpeace staged a light-hearted prelude to the serious conflicts to be addressed later this week. Hundreds of people bearing anti-whaling signs and some wearing whale suits snaked through the city center in a parade they called a "Big Blue March."

It was one of about 50 Big Blue Marches that were held Sunday in Argentina, Australia, Bahrain, Colombia, Ecuador's Galapagos Islands, Fiji, France, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Spain, and Uruguay, among many other places.

In Anchorage, the Big Blue March circled the Captain Cook Hotel, where the International Whaling Commission meeting opened today.

Anchorage police and security guards in suits stood by the hotel doors, but did not confront the friendly crowd.
human mural

Human mural of a whale in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo Jeff Pantukhoff / Spectral Q / Greenpeace)
At the end of the parade aerial artist John Quigley took over.

Over the past several weeks, Quigley has set up eight human murals from Mexico to Alaska called "Migrating Human Whales" that were photographed from the air. He used a total of some 10,000 schoolchildren arranged in whale shapes to dramatize opposition to whaling.

Quigley arranged the Anchorage crowd into the shape of a humpback whale, with the word "Defend" made up of people above it. Everyone maintained their pose through the drizzle until the photo was snapped and the cycle of Migrating Human Whales cycle was complete.