IWC Validates Commercial Whaling Ban, Condemns Japan's Hunt

ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 31, 2007 (ENS) - The International Whaling Commission today re-authorized the existing moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986. A group of 26 pro-whaling nations, including Japan, abstained from the vote.

The whale conservation majority of 37 countries adopted a resolution stating that the whaling ban "remains valid," effectively overturning last year's statement by a temporary pro-whaling majority that the moratorium was "no longer required."


Bill Hogarth, director of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, chaired the IWC meeting in Anchorage. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
The vote indicates the renewed strength of the anti-whaling group of nations, observers said today, the final day of the Commission's four day annual meeting, taking place at the Captain Cook Hotel in Anchorage.

A Japanese government delegate said that the result was "expected but regrettable."

Japan stopped commercial whaling in line with the 1986 moratorium but has been hunting whales since 1987 for what it calls scientific research purposes.

Japan's research whaling program in Antarctica's Southern Ocean was condemned Wednesday by a majority of the 75 IWC member nations.

The non-binding resolution proposed by New Zealand was passed with 40 votes in favor and two against. Again, the group of countries recruited by Japan as allies did not participate in the vote.


Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, left, discusses whaling issues with Japanese IWC Commissioner Joji Morishita at the IWC meeting. (Photo by Dave Walsh courtesy Greenpeace)
Japan's first Antarctic Research Program, JARPA, from 1987 to 2005 killed nearly 6,800 whales.

In 2006, Japan opened JARPA II, which calls for the killing of up to 935 minke whales each year as well as 50 endangered fin whales. Japan plans to add 50 endangered humpbacks this year.

It is this whale hunt that has brought Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd Society ships to the Southern Ocean for the past two years in attempts to stop the slaughter. A Sea Shepherd vessel tangled with a Japanese whaler in December, an incident for which each side blames the other.

Greenpeace delegation leader Shane Rattenbury said today, "The JARPA II programme that began two years ago must be immediately ended before thousands more whales die needlessly."

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Captain Paul Watson, who traveled from Australia to attend the IWC meeting, was told to leave the Captain Cook Hotel and treatened with criminal tresspass charges if he re-entered the building.

Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society explains his organization's position on Japanese whaling to an Anchorage City police officer outside the Captain Cook Hotel. (Photo courtesy SSCS)
"I was informed that the Captain Cook Hotel did not welcome certain opponents of Japanese whaling operations," said Watson. Dolphin defender Ric O'Barry was also denied permission to enter the hotel.

Japan's research program was criticized by the IWC Scientific Committee earlier this week. In its report to the plenary meeting of IWC delegates, the Scientific Committee said, there is "little incentive" for Japan to produce data collected from its JARPA whaling program and what data has been shared, "is of little actual value."

"It is quite clear from the JARPA review workshop and subsequent discussions in the Committee that the 18 year JARPA program involving killing 6,796 whales has added little to our understanding of minke whale biology or ecology," said the Scientific Committee, comprised of up to 200 whale biologists, many nominated by IWC member governments.

IWC members passed a resolution Wednesday that calls on the government of Japan to address 31 outstanding recommendations from the Scientific Committee and to suspend indefinitely the lethal aspects of its research program.

The resolution recalls that the IWC has repeatedly requested that Japan desist from issuing permits to conduct lethal research on whales that are protected from commercial whaling.

It notes that the research conducted during its last phase did not meet any of its goals, does not meet any critically important research needs, and could have been conducted by non-lethal means.

Sue Fisher of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says Japan is not really conducting research. "This hunt under the guise of science is a joke, but sadly it is not funny. It is clearly being conducted for commercial purposes, despite a declining market in Japan for whale meat and thousands of tons of meat from previous hunts stuck in stockpiles."

A Japanese crew measures the body weight of a minke whale taken from the Southern Ocean. (Photo courtesy Institute of Cetacean Research)
Any IWC member is allowed to hunt whales for scientific research, but whale conservation countries view the size and scope of Japan's whale hunt in the Antarctic and north Pacific as outside of what is permitted by the IWC's constitution, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

In other decisions made this week, the IWC turned back the proposal by Brazil and Argentina for a Southern Atlantic Whale Sanctuary again. It needed a 75 percent majority to pass but managed to secure only 60 percent of the vote.

The current moratorium on commercial whaling does not affect aboriginal subsistence whaling and quotas were approved for several countries.

Greenland's proposal to increase its aboriginal hunt from 175 minkes and 19 fin whales to 200 minkes, 19 fin whales and two bowheads did obtain a 75 percent majority in a vote today.

The original proposal contained a request to take 10 humpbacks as well, but this was withdrawn after strong opposition from whale conservation countries.

The issue of Greenland's expanded quota was controversial. Countries including the UK, the United States and the Netherlands voted in favor, while countries such as Monaco, Germany, France, Australia and New Zealand voted against it. Latin American countries such as Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica abstained from the vote.

The IWC also renewed aboriginal subsistence Whaling quotas for the Inuit peoples of Russia and Alaska, the Makah people of the U.S. state of Washington, and for the inhabitants of the Caribbean island nation of St. Vincent and The Grenadines.

Some good news for whale conservation did come out of the IWC meeting. The world's largest mammal, the blue whale is slowly recovering from commercial whaling, the Scientific Committee said.

Blue whales weigh between 100 and 120 tons. The primary target species of modern whaling, blue whales were reduced in all waters to very low levels until protected in the mid-1960s, but are now showing some signs of recovery. (Photo courtesy IWC)
Observations show that the population of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere has grown from a several hundred to a few thousand, and there is also a small rise in the population near Iceland.

Once present by the hundreds of thousands, blue whale numbers are currently about 4,500 in all the world's oceans, said the IWC's chief scientist Greg Donovan.

Numbers of other large species such as fin whales and humpbacks are also rising in many parts of the world, the Scientific Committee said.

The Greenpeace delegation is concerned about what was not addressed by the IWC commissioners.

"The functional extinction of an entire species - the Baiji dolphin - got just 15 minutes of fame here at the International Whaling Commission meeting," the group said. "The Vaquita, the Mexican dolphin likely to become extinct in the near future got about as much notice."

Greenpeace said that during the four days of the IWC meeting an "estimated the 3,288 cetaceans" have died worldwide as bycatch in the nets of fishermen targeting other species, "plus the incalculable deaths from other human causes like ship strikes, pollution, bycatch and climate change." But these issues did not come up during the meeting.

"The survival of the highly endangered Western Pacific grey whale is dependent on Japan taking direct and swift action to reduce the numbers of these whales dying in fishing nets," said Naoko Funahashi, Japan representative of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"Japan must act responsibly," said Funahashi. "It must take action urgently to save these whales, or they could be lost forever."

Calling themselves Teens Against Whaling, three schoolgirls from the coastal town of Port Stephens, Australia - Skye Bortoli, Ayesha Future and Caitlin Frerk - travelled to Anchorage to present the IWC chairman with a petition signed by 40,000 Australians calling for an end to Japan's lethal scientific whaling program.

A humpback whale breaches in the Hawaiian Islands (Photo Innerspace Visions, Nolan courtesy Greenpeace)
"The girls remind us of how the humpbacks have become a cherished part of the coastal communities of Australia where they pass on their migration from the Antarctic," said Australian Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who met with the girls and introduced them to Chairman Hogarth.

"Perhaps more than anything, these three young ambassadors underline the depth of the feeling about whale conservation in Australia," Turnbull said.

Finally, the Commission voted today to hold a special meeting on the function and effectiveness of the body as a whole before next year's annual meeting in Santiago, Chile.

Monica Medina, director of the Pew Whale Conservation Project, welcomed the decision. "It is clear from this week's meeting that there is general agreement among the commissioners that the institution is itself at risk of extinction," Medina said.

"If we can resolve the on-going controversy over commercial whaling," she said, "we will be in a better position to address conservation comprehensively, and bring the IWC into the 21st century."