News from International Whaling Commission meeting 11-14 July 2011

Day 4
Whale Sanctuary battle on final day
On the final morning of a tempestuous annual meeting, another highly contentious issue would be raised when Brazil and Argentina tabled their long-standing request that the IWC create a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. With no agreement likely, the issue was expected to be pushed to a vote, but Japan had other ideas. As the Campaign Whale team arrived outside of the conference hall, we were greeted by the extraordinary sight of a senior Japanese delegate surrounded by a throng of Commissioners from the whaling countries and their supporters, including Denmark, some Caribbean and Pacific Island States, and several West African countries. It was clearly overheard that these countries were to walk out of the meeting to prevent a vote on the sanctuary taking place.

Back in the meeting, when the Sanctuary issue came up, the same Japanese delegate spoke on behalf of what he described as the ‘pro-sustainable use’ group. He said Japan wanted to prevent a vote that would have a negative impact on the current ‘wonderful’ atmosphere. And with that he stood up and walked out of the meeting, followed by all the countries we had seen assembled earlier. It was only 11.30 a.m. and the meeting had ground to a halt yet again.

The dispute over voting on the hotly contested South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary continued for a further 9 hours with the Commissioners locked away in private discussions. After several false alarms it was nearly 8.30pm when the meeting reconvened. It was then announced that an agreement had been reached to delay any vote and reconsider the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary again as the first item of business at the next IWC meeting in Panama in 2012.

Missed opportunities
Due to all the time-wasting by the whalers, the rest of the IWC’s agenda was rushed through with little or no discussion. This meant that all our hard work preparing briefings and lobbying delegates in order for them to raise a host of important issues during the meeting, such as the mass killing of dolphins and porpoises and the threats to human health associated with people eating contaminated whale and dolphin products, was lost. For example, our calls for an IWC Working Group on Human Health; for the IWC to liaise with the World Health Organisation and for health warning labels to be placed on contaminated whale products were not raised. However, undaunted, we will work with supportive IWC Member Governments to ensure progress is still made on this critical issue before next year’s IWC meeting.

Help for critically endangered dolphins
Campaign Whale has worked tirelessly to seek greater protection for the tens of thousands of smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises that are hunted for their meat in Japan and elsewhere each year. Our campaign to stop the hunt for Dall’s porpoises in Japan has led to a massive reduction in a hunt that peaked at almost 40,000 animals slaughtered each year to around 8,000 last year. The terrible earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan this year has devastated the north-east coast and it is now unclear how many porpoises can still be hunted. However, we do know that the cruel dolphin kills in Taiji and elsewhere have continued in areas unaffected by the disaster.

Unable to specifically raise the Japanese hunts this year, instead Campaign Whale rallied support for all endangered dolphins and porpoises, including the critically endangered vaquita, a small porpoise that inhabits the Gulf of California that has just 200 animals surviving. We asked other organisations to contribute to the IWC’s under-funded research projects on seriously threatened dolphins and porpoises and managed to raise over £10,000 in a couple of hours! We then presented a statement on behalf of the ten contributing organisations, which was read to the Commission by the IWC Secretary, calling for their support to help greater protect dolphins and porpoises, including the vaquita that is still dying in fishermen’s nets. As a result, we were delighted when both Italy and France announced they would contribute a further £40,000, ensuring this vital work can continue.

And so IWC 63 came to a close at around 9.30pm on the final day. Despite the disruptive efforts of the whalers, important reforms have been introduced to reduce alleged corruption. We were also able to snatch an important victory for the vaquita and other endangered species. The whalers always claim they support the conservation of whales, but not a single whaling country or their allies joined the applause when these donations were announced. Sadly, it seems saving endangered whales means nothing to them unless they can kill them for profit. Campaign Whale will never give up until the IWC becomes the modern conservation champion for whales that it should be, with whaling condemned to history, so ending the appalling abuse of these wonderful animals forever.

Day 3
Voting fights
Day three began with further heated discussion on the UK’s much resisted proposals to reform the IWC, in particular, by eliminating countries’ paying their annual membership dues in cash. These dues must be paid if any country is to maintain its voting rights. A greatly revised document was re-tabled by the UK delegation which contained a minimal package of rule changes. There had already been much debate in private meetings the previous day to try and reach agreement and, at the demand of the whalers, these proposals had been greatly diminished with the removal of full speaking rights for IWC observers like Campaign Whale that represent civil society. However, once the debate began again, Antigua, St Kitts, Palau, Grenada and Iceland began a counter-offensive for the whaling countries by once again raising and disputing endless trivial details and making long impassioned speeches about the ‘lack of fairness’ of the proposals, all in order to waste even more valuable time. At one point the Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda, one of several Caribbean countries that have been repeatedly accused of being hired votes for Japan, arrogantly dismissed these essential reforms as ‘a lot of fluff ‘.

Eventually after the best part of two days of acriminonious wrangling and endless disruptions for closed Commissioners’ meetings, the UK proposals, which were now supported by all EU member governments, were finally adopted without further dispute. At long, long last, the IWC has finally taken a major step to tackle the endless allegations of vote-buying by requiring all member governments to pay their membership dues directly by bank transfer from their Government’s accounts, to maintain their voting rights.

Japan withdraws coastal whaling request
In a surprise move, Japan announced they would not be tabling their annual request for a special quota of whales to relieve the ‘hardship’ they claim has been caused to their coastal whaling towns by the IWC’s ongoing ban on commercial whaling. This request has never been justified and has been rejected by the IWC for many years because it would set a dangerous precedent that other countries that have abided by the whaling ban might try to exploit.

Finally, at around 8pm, the meeting was adjourned after a brief discussion over a joint United States and New Zealand paper which sought to maintain negotiations over a compromise deal for the resumption of commercial whaling. The Commissioner for India summed up the view of many by saying the IWC’s future role should actually be to conserve whales and protect them from the many serious environmental threats they now face, such as climate change, toxic pollution, over-fishing, entanglement in fishing nets, increasing ocean noise, habitat loss and ship-strikes. He said he now felt it was prudent to rename the IWC the ‘International Whales Commission’. We couldn’t agree more.

Day 2
Today saw the IWC plunged in to chaos as one of the key reforms proposed to modernise the Commission brought proceedings to a standstill. A proposal intended to address the issue of alleged vote-buying, by requiring all financial contributions from Member Governments to be paid by bank transfer rather than in cash, provoked an angry response from some countries that have been directly implicated in the allegations. After repeated interruptions and heated debate a private meeting of Commissioners was called and the day’s business was finally abandoned. More on these dramatic developments tomorrow.

Day 1
The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has started here today in St Helier, Jersey. The Campaign Whale team is here as ever to fight for the whales and our priorities this year are, first and foremost, to ensure that the ban on commercial whaling remains firmly in place. The first day of what promises to be a gruelling week, began with an early morning meeting with UK Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon and the rest of the UK delegation, including the new UK Commissioner, Richard Pullan. The Minister told us that his over-riding objective was to see much needed reforms to modernise the IWC agreed at this meeting.

Over the past few years the IWC has been dead-locked in discussions over its future role. Not surprisingly the debate remains hopelessly polarised between the pro-whaling countries and the anti-whaling majority. Unfortunately, the United States and New Zealand are still trying to broker a deal that could allow commercial whaling to legitimately resume.

This year, the defiant whaling nations, Japan, Iceland and Norway, aim to kill well over two thousand whales between them. Iceland and Norway can kill whales after registering formal objections to the ban introduced a quarter of a century ago in 1986. Meanwhile, Japan has continued to kill many hundreds of whales for so-called ‘research’ in Antarctica and the north Pacific every year.

Despite the defiance of these three countries, the IWC ban on commercial whaling has reduced whaling by over 95% on historic levels. It remains a critical campaign success vital to limiting and ultimately ending this cruel, outdated and unnecessary industry.  Sadly, political will does not match overwhelming world public opinion that wants to see whaling finally ended.

Campaign Whale’s other priorities this week are to highlight the threat to whales and the people that eat whale products from toxic pollution that reaches dangerous levels in these top predators, posing a serious health risk to people that eat them. Last year, at the IWC’s annual meeting, we succeeded in persuading twelve countries to raise this issue and call upon the IWC to work with the World Health Organisation on this matter. This campaign is vital to reduce the markets for whale products in the whaling countries themselves, and in particular reduce the appallingly cruel slaughter of tens of thousands of smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises in Japan, the Faroe Islands and other countries where these small whales receive no protection at all.

Today the IWC reviewed whale-killing methods with the usual retorts of the whalers that this is not an issue they are prepared to discuss at the IWC. Even with modern technology, every year many hundreds of whales are dying in unimaginable agony at the hands of the whalers. Worse the traditional or subsistence whale hunts, conducted by indigenous people inflict the most appalling suffering on whales that can take from a few  minutes to anything up to several hours to die.

The Commission reviewed the status of various whale populations. Significantly, Antarctic minke whales, that have been the target of Japanese whalers for so-called ‘research’, have shown a significant decline in numbers. The IWC Scientific Committee has been unable to determine the size of the population despite Japan’s claims that there are huge numbers of minke whales in the Southern Ocean. Japan’s bogus research has enabled them to defy the IWC ban on commercial whaling for over twenty years during which many thousands of whales have been killed and the meat sold for profit.

Meanwhile, the Western North Pacific population of gray whales is possibly the most endangered population of whales in the world. There are only around 100 whales left with as few as 20 breeding females. Their survival is now in the hands of the oil companies that are developing oil and gas extraction in the middle of their feeding grounds off Sakhalin Island off Russia’s north-east coast. Campaign Whale is doing all we can to persuade the Russian Government and the oil companies to limit their activities and help save these animals from extinction.

Campaign Whale is also calling on governments to support Mexico’s efforts to save the Vaquita, a small porpoise that inhabits the Gulf of California that has been all but wiped out by entanglement in fishermen’s nets. Today, only around 200 porpoises remain and Mexico is struggling to find the resources necessary to pay fishermen to remove their nets throughout the range of the Vaquita.

For further information and daily updates from the IWC in Jersey please visit us again at  www.campaign-whale.org

Campaign Whale is attending the 63rd annual meeting of the IWC here in Jersey. Our campaign priority is to ensure the ongoing ban on commercial whaling is maintained and strengthened; that ongoing whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland in defiance of the ban is condemned; that the serious pollution threat to whales and the people that eat them is highlighted along with the many increasing environmental threats to whales; and that the smaller whales and dolphins receive greater protection.

Daily reports from events here in Jersey will be posted on this site. Please click the headline above for all the latest news and ways you may be able to help.

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