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A Sperm Whale. Sperm whales are currently targeted under Japan's so-called 'scientific' whaling program.
Photo: Chris Johnson

June 30, 2003
Renewed Hope for Whales - 2003 International Whaling Commission Meeting
  Real Audio Report

Log Transcript

"If we can't save the whales, we can't save anything."
-Sir Peter Scott, Founder World Wildlife Fund.

The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has concluded for another year. The crew was ecstatic to learn that those working for the protection of the great whales 'for all time', achieved a narrow victory over the loathsome representatives of whaling nations that eagerly anticipate a return to the commercial slaughter.

Despite the adoption of an international moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986, two countries continue to hunt whales for profit. Commercialised whaling decimated most of the world's whale populations in the 19th and 20th centuries, yet Japan and Norway continue their relentless campaign to lift the ban in the face of harsh global opposition.

This year's meeting was held in Berlin, Germany, where despite desperate attempts, Japan and her pro-whaling allies failed to overturn the moratorium. In an unprecedented shift away from its traditional role of regulating whaling, the IWC passed a resolution called the 'Berlin Initiative', which makes the conservation of all cetaceans -whales, dolphins and porpoises, its central focus. It will also advance the IWC's work on issues such as whale watching and the protection of smaller species. Up until now, the commission has only dealt with the large whale species.

In a hard won victory of 25 votes 'for', and 20 'against', and backed by more than 40 non-governmental organizations, the responsibility of a new 'conservation committee', will help prioritise the conservation needs of the world's threatened cetaceans. These marine mammals face a barrage of threats including whaling, chemical pollution, climate change, undersea noise, ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear, by far the greatest immediate threat to small cetaceans. Sadly, it may already be too late for some critically imperilled populations including the Baiji river dolphin, Vaquita porpoise, West Greenland belugas and Narwhals, Western North Pacific gray whales and North Atlantic and North Pacific right whales. The task ahead is enormous, but this new focus is a positive first step, revealing a glimmer of hope for the ocean's crumbling cetacean diversity.

Delegates from Japan called the anti-whaling allies 'liars' in an angry and bitter response to the vote, believing the IWC promised to end the ban on commercial whaling in 1990. Masayuki Komatsu of the Japanese delegation said " If there is no progress we must use other options, including withdrawing from the commission". He went on to say that the failure to make progress toward a return to commercial whaling had "provoked an increased interest in the establishment of an alternative management organization."

Since 1986, a loophole in the moratorium permitting an unlimited number of whales to be taken for scientific purposes has allowed Japan to continue whaling while setting her own quotas. Most people are aware of Japan's annual so-called 'scientific' hunt for Minke whales in Antarctic waters, but few are aware of a second insidious hunt taking place this very moment in the eastern North Pacific. In 2000, Japan defied the IWC and world opinion by increasing its self allocated quotas and expanding its operations to include sperm whales and Bryde's whales. In 2001, they announced the addition of the Sei whale to their target list of endangered species, a move generating outrage and condemnation on a global scale.

However, the whalers were not perturbed by world opinion and in an effort to circumvent the IWC, submitted a proposal to the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) at last year's meeting in Santiago, Chile, to downlist the status of Minke and Bryde's whales from Appendix 1 to Appendix 11. Such a decrease in their protection status would permit trade in these species. Fortunately, the proposal failed.

Japan and Norway each catch between 600 and 700 whales a year. Japan do so under an IWC ruling, while Norway is not a member of the IWC and is therefore not subject to the regulations of the commission. Norway claims their hunt is small-scale and traditional, and an important component of the national diet. Interestingly, Norway only began Minke whaling in 1930. The truth of the matter is there is little market for the meat in Norway. The real goal of the whalers is export to Japan where prices paid are several times higher. Norway lends her voice to the aggressive lobbying of CITES in the hope that trade will re-open and in the mean time is pressing its own government for an increased quota and permission to hunt other species. In a widely criticized move, Iceland also announced a plan to resume a 'scientific' hunt for export to Japan as early as this summer.

The fact that Japan is pushing to re-open trade clearly shows that her whaling is not about gathering so called 'scientific data'.

A Pantropical spotted dolphin. The Berlin Initiative proposes changes to the focus of the IWC from the regulation of whaling to the conservation of all whales, dolphins and porpoises.
Photo: Chris Johnson

In a shocking but not surprising revelation in Berlin, it was confirmed that Antarctic Minke whale meat was found, and is being sold in dog food in Japan. Amazingly, Japan announced her intention in Berlin to increase her catch quota, meaning the death of an additional 300 large whales, citing the need to feed distressed local whaling communities suffering under the commercial ban.

Japan continues to argue that whaling is sustainable, yet DNA testing on whale meat sold on the market continues to reveal protected species. In 1999, meat was found from a Western Pacific gray whale - of which there are thought to be only 100 left. This year DNA tests showed meat from humpback and fin whales. Humpbacks have been protected since 1966. Of the 88 samples tested in 2002/2003, 100% contained levels of mercury higher than what is allowable for human consumption. Japan continues to lie and cheat, not only to the rest of the world, but to her own people and at the expense of their health! Japan has recently given an incentive to its fishermen by paying them money for any whales or dolphins caught in their nets. This is an obvious ploy to disguise inshore 'net whaling' as unintentional bycatch.

In order to gain support for her whaling efforts, Japan recruits new countries into the commission which support and vote with her. Japan secures the assistance of these nations by 'buying' the votes of essentially poor coastal countries in exchange for overseas development aid. As a result of this strategy, Japan managed to assemble a blocking minority within the IWC that has so far prevented the extension and establishment of whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic respectively. Let us hope that the aid packages supplied by Japan to Sri Lanka are of genuine motive, and not a thinly disguised attempt to buy Sri Lanka's vote at the IWC.

Despite three new members this year, all of whom strongly supported the pro-whaling faction (Belize, Gabon and Nicaragua), the global moratorium on commercial whaling remains in tact for at least another year, and anti-whaling nations have managed to tip the scale toward conservation, however there is still much work to be done if we are to save the world's imperilled cetacean species.

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) President, Fred O'Regan suggests a pertinent course of action.

    "Japan is undermining decades of environmental conservation efforts. It's just outrageous and unacceptable that they continue to hunt whales. What we need now is for the international community to send a strong message of opposition to Japan - trade agreement s should be questioned, efforts should be put into building the countries growing whale watching industry, not its subsidized whale hunts, and Japan's political role in the international community should be re-evaluated."

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Colombo, Sri Lanka.



  • Roger Payne discusses 'scientific whaling' - Part 1 / Part 2.
  • Learn more about the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary.
  • In Sri Lanka, dolphins are harpooned in large numbers - read more.
  • What did the crew report on one year ago in the Chagos Archipelago?
    Two years ago in Papua New Guinea?
    Three years ago in the Galapagos Islands? -> Real Video: > click here

Written by Genevieve Johnson

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