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There was a collective sigh of relief around the world as the conclusion of the annual meeting revealed that the commercial ban will be safe for another year. However, a number of Minke Whales, Sperm Whales, Bryde's Whales and Sei Whales will be killed this year under the guise of science.
Photo: Iain Kerr

June 11, 2002
Shimonoseki - The 2002 International Whaling Commission Meeting
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey as we sail at a steady seven knots over a following sea in the central Indian Ocean, toward the Chagos Archipelago. The Odyssey crew left the Cocos (Keeling) Islands a two weeks ago and are now conducting a transect survey across the bathymetric features of the Chagos Trench, a mid-oceanic mountain range where we have encountered 6 male sperm whales so far.

The very nature of our work affords us minimal contact with the outside world for extended periods. During these times, we are always anxious to hear news of significant global concern and last month's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting was certainly no exception.

This year's meeting was held in Shimonoseki, Japan. A long time whaling centre, 490 miles southwest of Tokyo, the choice of venue apparently intended to evoke sympathy for the loss of such a " Japanese cultural tradition". Japan stopped commercial whaling in 1986 when a three quarters majority of IWC members passed the moratorium amid concerns that the world's whale numbers were being killed above sustainable levels. But to the outrage of most of the world Japan used a loophole in the commission to keep right on whaling, and at an ever-increasing rate for what they term 'scientific purposes.' The meat and blubber from their 'research' is sold commercially in Japan. No other country currently uses this lethal method to research whales. Japan has since been campaigning intensively for a resumption-claiming the importance of their research-a claim specifically denied by the scientific committee of the IWC each year in annual resolutions to the Japanese government requesting that they not issue permits as there is neither a need, nor a scientific justification for them to go whaling

Today pro-whaling nations led by Japan and Norway, are gaining valuable ground in the IWC. More IWC members are adopting weaker positions on commercial whaling as a result of Japan and Norway's tactics. If this trend goes unchecked, commercial whaling may once again be sanctioned.

Japan's first hope toward winning back support within the IWC this year was an attempt by Iceland to get reinstated in the International Whaling Commission with full voting rights (she had walked out over a decade ago in protest over a ruling she did not like). Since Iceland is a whaling nation, giving her voting rights would have given the pro-whaling nations a simple majority, shifting the balance of power back to those who favor a resumption of commercial whaling. However, Iceland had made a condition of her rejoining the IWC that the commission accept her desire to reverse her original decision (back in the mid 1980s) in which she had decided not to file an objection to the moratorium (instead she took up the ruse of scientific whaling for several years-a practice that she has mercifully stopped). Had she filed an objection at the time, the way Norway did, whaling would be legal for her now. However, in the articles of the Whaling Convention there is no provision for making the reversal that Iceland now wants, so her bid to be reinstated was defeated at the outset of the meeting by a ruling of the Chairman which was upheld by a floor vote, and so, Iceland was not given full membership.

This turn of affairs clearly rocked Japan since she had managed to gain the support of four of this year's six new voting members, and had done so, many suggest, by buying their votes with Overseas Development Aid.

Those four new members that backed Japan's votes included Benin, Gabon, land-locked Mongolia and Palau who only last year was one of fourteen countries in the South Pacific to sign a South Pacific Island Forum statement in support of the creation of a whale sanctuary covering the entire South Pacific. These four nations join eleven other recruits which have formed an effective blocking minority within the IWC. Together they were able to block an extension to the equator of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. They also rejected a proposal for the creation of a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic, with Japanese delegation head Minoru Morimoto claiming - "There is no scientific basis for whale sanctuaries." Although disappointing, the number of votes in favor has increased since last year, an encouraging trend.

The IWC voting system has been set up so that it allows a three-quarters majority to pass a proposal, while only a one-quarter minority is required to block amendments to the schedule of the Whaling Convention and quotas. Japan has managed to gain such a minority by effectively buying the votes of the developing nations. As a result she is creeping perilously close to her ultimate objective, a resumption of full-scale commercial whaling.@@@@@@

As a precautionary measure, some IWC members have proposed the development of a Revised Management Scheme (RMS), a set of rules that would manage and monitor whaling in the event that the tactics of pro-whaling nations prevail and commercial whaling is to resume. Many anti-whaling nations have refused to support the RMS, claiming this would herald the lifting of the ban, pro-whalers would then support this psuedo-conservationist proposal by passing it, and making it all but impossible to maintain the moratorium.

Toward the end of the meeting, Japanese delegates became outraged when their request for a coastal whaling quota of an additional 50 Minke whales was denied for the fourteenth year running. Japan shocked the international delegation by blasting the U.S led anti-whaling nations-using their minority blocking votes to prevent the United States from renewing quotas allowing the Alaskan Inuit to hunt 55 Bowhead whales over a five year period. Russia's request for 120 Gray whales for its indigenous Chukotka people was also voted down. Japan claimed such requests were hypocritical, as she was had not been given permission for a coastal hunt. However, aboriginal whaling differs from Japan's proposed coastal whaling as it provides basic nutritional needs to indigenous peoples and there is no commercial benefit. Japan's so-called indigenous coastal whaling involves some ships that have been owned for years by the largest fishing company on earth: hardly a mom and pop aboriginal subsistence hunt as Japan has tried for years to characterize it. Never before in the history of the IWC have aboriginal whaling quotas been denied!

On a more positive note, however, the pro-whaling nations and their token supporters were not able to abolish the existing Southern Ocean and Indian Ocean sanctuaries, the surprise came when Japan's traditional whaling ally Norway, abstained from voting on this critical issue-a great boon since anti-whaling nations view the proposal to undo these sanctuaries as an outrageous proposal that would have undone years of hard won victories by conservation groups and the IWC.

There was a collective sigh of relief around the world as the conclusion of the annual meeting revealed that the commercial ban will be safe for another year. Sadly however, hundreds of whales will not be saved. In spite of overwhelming international opposition, Japan has continued to defy the IWC and world opinion, announcing in 2000 that they were expanding their whale hunt to include not only 500 Minke whales, but also 10 Sperm and 50 Brydes whales. Public outrage and diplomatic protest has failed to deter the whalers who will also be hunting 50 Sei whales this season in the North Pacific, also an endangered species.

It has been estimated that between 1925, when the first factory whaling ship was introduced and the proclamation of the moratorium, over 1.5 million whales have been killed. Commercial whaling has never been carried out in a sustainable manner for either whale populations or ocean ecosystems. There is no reason to believe things would be any different today. Recent DNA tests carried out on whale meat for sale on the Japanese market proved to be from not just Minke whales - the target species of the 'whale scientists', but also entirely protected species, including Humpback, Fin and the critically endangered Western Pacific Gray whale.

The bitterly opposed hunt will continue in 2002 under the guise of science, as Japanese whaling interests plan their strategy for next year's meeting and another attempt to return to commercial whaling. Fortunately, this also allows more time to raise the level of global education and awareness relating to the propaganda, scare tactics and the scam that is Japan's "scientific whaling". Hopefully we can all work together, creating a swelling tide of global opposition so powerful, that pro-whaling camps will no longer have the strength or the inclination to continue to swim against it.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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