A new chance for whales


Hovering in the background or perhaps above the 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia, is the March 2014 decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which declared Japan’s so-called “scientific” whaling in the Antarctic a thinly disguised form of commercial whaling, and ordered it halted immediately. Japan complied, in a manner of speaking, announcing that it would not return to the Antarctic next season. However, it immediately went about plotting counter measures aimed at resuming Antarctic Whaling at the soonest possible moment. Japan’s current plan seems to be one of fine-tuning its old rejected plan, making it more “scientific” and less blatantly commercial. It is difficult to see how Japan can accomplish this without bending or breaking the rules that govern science and fair play. Nevertheless, Japan seems bent on trying.

Japan’s decision to keep on fighting a fight it cannot win is an enormous waste of opportunity. The Court’s decision, to which there was no appeal, gave it a chance to bow out of an increasingly impossible situation gracefully. By doing so, it would have gained stature in its international relations and gained friends in places where it now only sees enemies. Full compliance, including a dismantling of Japan’s pelagic whaling fleet would have garnered Japan a moment of such international good will that achieving its dream of a permanent seat on the UN Security Council may well have come within reach. That dream now lies in tatters.

Oddly, Japan has not come to this meeting with a plan in hand. It has talked about creating one, and apparently will use its time here lobbying and searching out sympathetic ears. But no document has been tabled; no resolution has been proposed; there is not even a sign that Japan will call on the Scientific Committee to evaluate its new plan, though that would be an essential step. If this is a strategy, it’s a strange one.

Also strange, is the place the ICJ decision is going to hold in the proceedings over the next four days. Despite the earthquake nature of the Court’s ruling, a shake up that should have woken everyone up, it does not have a central role in the agenda.  The closest it will come is in the form of discussion of scientific permits.  A resolution proposed by New Zealand aimed at regulating special permit (“scientific”) whaling is also being circulated.  Perhaps the intent is to keep Japan in check, but given the tendency in recent meetings for resolutions to vanish from the agenda because time runs out, even this sideways reference to the most important development in recent IWC history, literally a new chance for whales, might not even make it to the floor.

We shall see.

Meanwhile, the simple truth is that for the first time in well over 100 years, whales will not die in agony in Antarctic waters during the coming southern summer. The accompanying silence will be as profound as that which followed the cessation of hostilities in World War I. Despite the passage of time, people around the world still pause at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month each year to remember that moment in 1918 when suddenly, there was peace.

by Paul Spong

September 14, 2014

4 Responses to “A new chance for whales”
  1. Paul Watson says:

    We are not convinced that Japan will not kill whales this 2014/2015 season. Sending four harpoon vessels to the Southern Ocean is strange if the object is non-lethal research. These harpoon vessels need refueling and that means sending the Nisshin Maru or a tanker. It’s a huge expense to send a tanker and if it’s the NM the potential to kill whales will be very real. Sea Shepherd will be sending three ships south once again to monitor the Japanese whalers. At the same time they will use the opportunity to intervene against tooth fish poachers. We hope to have four ships ready for action for the 2015/2016 season when the Japanese have stated they will resume lethal research.

  2. susie choinski says:

    Hi Dr. Spong,

    Thank you for posting this. I look forward to hearing further developments.
    What I really can not understand is why the IWC doesn’t even try to protect dolphins at all.
    Dolphins are cetaceans, yet completely ignored by the IWC.

    p.s. I am an admirer of your work with Orcas and am very happy you left Vancouver Aquarium to do work in the wild.

  3. Edgardo intrieri. says:

    Estimado señor y señora spong
    Los felicito por su trabajo . muy bueno lo publicado. Pero letras y palabras no alcanzan para frenar el codiciado interes comercial de japon sobre nuestras preciadas ballenas. Habría que despertar un interés sobre los paises que tienen base en antártica monitorear las arppneras destinadas a navegar encima la zonal. Y hoy con la evolución de la tecnologia habría que destinar un satélite para monitorear estas arponeras. Bueno seguimos en contacto. Un abrazo a ambos. Edgardo .

  4. Arlene says:

    Terrible news today with 46 countries voting in favour of Greenland killing 10 Humpbacks from 2015 to 2018 and only 11 against. The EU is also capitulating to Denmark’s demands.

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