Memories of a moratorium: Rundown of the 64th International Whaling Commission meeting

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The day Obama was sworn in as president, my neighbor flew his Hummer-sized American flag at half mast. I thought it was pretty funny. At that point I still had a lot of hope for the whole “Change you can believe in” mantra.

Based on the position of the United States delegation under direct orders from the Obama administration at the most recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama City, Panama, there has been a lot of change, but, it’s still hard for me to believe.

“Shockingly, this year, the US is actively supporting the killing of humpback whales by the notorious, non-aboriginal, whale mother-calf-killing St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) by ‘bundling’ the SVG request with the US and Russian Federation ASW [aboriginal subsistence whaling] request,” Green Vegans reported from the conference in a press release.

The group went on to report that the United States fully supported the request by Greenland for an increase its ASW quota to kill up to 1,326 minke, fin, humpback, and bowhead whales over the next six years, despite the fact that the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS), in a joint effort with the Animal Welfare Institute, released a report that found that large amounts of whale meat was on sale across Greenland in high-scale restaurants targeting tourists.

The IWC’s rules state that any whales hunted under the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) exemption be for the explicit “purpose of local aboriginal consumption” and that indigenous people have a “nutritional and cultural need.”

We can take some good faith in the fact that Denmark’s request on behalf of Greenland was rejected, but it remains to be seen how many whales will be killed for any reason by Greenland as the country refused an offer by the IWC delegation to grant a renewal of its previous quota, preferring to leave the meeting with nothing.

While Greenland’s ASW quota was voted on as its own issue, the bundling of quotas for the United States, Russia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines was seen as an issue of contention, with many anti-whaling nations forcing a vote to unbundle the proposals and vote on each separately. This would have been good news for humpback whale mothers and calves in the Caribbean as many anti-whaling nations agreed that the SVG request did not qualify under ASW rules because the group that hunts whales, the the Bequians, are not indigenous.

Whaling was introduced to the islands by white settlers in the late 19th century, and no archeological excavations conducted on the islands have ever found any evidence that the true natives did engage in whaling.

The vote to force the unbundling failed, and the bundle for all of the countries was passed 48-10.

But why is the United States paving the way for the renewal of commercial whaling by supporting nations that are clearly not hunting whales to sustain the lives of its aboriginal people?

Green Vegans reports that the United States has made a deal with Japan to secure quotas for the Alaskan Inuit, and the Makah Tribe – a highly controversial proposal as the Makah have survived for close to 100 years without killing whales so do not qualify as having a “nutritional need.”

Japan refused to support U.S. ASW quotas in 2002 after its request to resume “small-type-coastal-whaling” (STCW) in Japanese waters was repeatedly denied. After months of bargaining, Japan agreed to vote in favor of U.S. quotas.

The press release states:

“The Japanese and other whaling countries need other US-approved examples of STCW, namely the Greenland, SVG, and the Makah proposals that should never have been approved or allowed to continue. If these US led proposals are approved, Japan has a stronger case for their STCW approval, which destroys the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.”

Japan again this year made a request for STCW which was denied by the IWC delegates. Japan warned that it would leave the commission if the issue is not resolved in the next meeting, although its commercial whaling thinly veiled as “scientific research” already puts it on the fringe of legality.

As National Resources Defense Council blogger Taryn Kiekow put it, Korea made it clear that it wants what Japan’s got by announcing its intention of conducting its own lethal scientific research on whales. South Korea has already legalized selling the meat of whales caught and killed in net “accidents,” and is looking to further legitimize the already illegal market for whale meat in the country.

Korea Times reports:

“The Korean Federation for Environment Movement says nearly 5,000 whales have been caught since 2000 [in accidental netting]. At the same time, more than 100 whales are caught every year through illegal hunting to provide whale meat for about 40 restaurants in Ulsan.”

Given the outcry from anti-whaling delegates at the IWC meeting, as well as from the international community, South Korea has agreed to hold that thought for the moment.

Whale Sanctuary

The South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, championed by Latin American member countries, was voted down, which would have created a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, and linked up with two existing IWC-approved sanctuaries in the Southern and Indian Oceans.

While much of it is disappointing news, especially to the whales, there is progress. Issues such as the effects of sonar, tangling in nets, marine debris and protections for smaller cetaceans not protected by the IWC moratorium were discussed and will go on to be studied further. To our credit, the United States has done much research on the effects of sonar and methods of disentangling cetaceans caught accidentally in nets. While hunting remains a hot ticket on public radar, sonar, nets and marine pollution are much greater threats to cetaceans, everything else cooking in our ocean stew, and, ultimately, to our own survival.

Whale hunting is hanging on, like many violent traditions, it will die hard. While I won’t be barbequing me up any whale burgers tonight, continuing to pay attention to my carbon footprint – as petrol companies are increasingly harming whales through their sonar exploration – is the next best thing I, and anyone of us can do for whales.

  • Tina Page

    Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.

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