IWC 66 Day Four

IWC 66 Day Four

Back down the rabbit hole

This all very familiar, and so so strange. The last time the International Whaling Commission met, the plenary proceedings took 4 days. Afterwards, the Secretariat sent around a survey asking for suggestions about how to make things better. A common response was to add a day, so that is what we have this time, a five day meeting. I’m by no means convinced the extra day contributes anything useful, because what we have is one repetition after another of lines written from a script we’re all familiar with. Antigua and Barbuda’s Daven Joseph drones on, making pious statements about the rights of people that used to be somewhat entertaining because of the cadence of his voice but are now just annoying. No one believes him, yet he gets to spout his nonsense time and again. The Chair is doing his best to control the meeting, but it really is out of control. Japan is not quite getting its way, but it is getting enough to make it happy with the way things are going.

Much of the first three days were taken up with tricky items that were left hanging, including all of the resolutions that were tabled at the beginning. So this was a cleanup day. The meeting opened with the trickiest item of all, “whaling under scientific permit” which is code for Japan breaking all the rules that govern good behaviour, including thumbing its nose at the International Court of Justice. The Scientific Committee was given the task of providing the Commission with advice about Japan’s so-called science, which comes down to determining the legitimacy of Japan’s defiance of the moratorium. It’s an unfair question, more politics than science. Does Japan’s slaughter of whales in the Antarctic and North Pacific contribute anything useful to our understanding of whales? The answer is no, not much or maybe, and given the makeup of the Committee, not unexpected. The Scientific Committee is as divided as the Commission when it comes to opinions about whales and whether or not they should come under the gun. But still, it has a job to do, and when told by the Commission, tries. It has tried several times internally, and brought in outside experts to assist, but has failed to come up with a clear answer. So we come down to today and the resolution by Australia and New Zealand which attempts to bring “scientific whaling” under Commission control. The vote was predictable. Japan lost. This might sound like a victory for whales but it really wasn’t. It will be two more years before the Commission acts on the resolution, if indeed it does, two more years of slaughter in a sanctuary. What does Japan not understand about the word?

Though there were no real surprises, there was a moment of levity when Iceland voted Yes then quickly No! A ripple of chuckles went around the room, including from Iceland. The vote, 34 yes 17 no 10 abstentions was interesting mostly for some of the abstentions. Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Grenada, Kenya, Mauritania and Morocco have all been Japanese puppets at this meeting, yet they failed to support Japan on one of its principle stands. Had the outcome been less certain, they would have voted otherwise, but this was food for thought and possibly a hint of cracks in the wall.

Voting on the other resolutions was just a predicable. Japan lost and it would be tempting to say whales won, but they really didn’t. Resolutions have no real weight, for the most part they are just expressions of opinion. The only real teeth in any of the ones voted on here was the resolution on special permit whaling, which has set in motion a process which may bear fruit at the next meeting, but as I’ve said it is at least 2 years away and a thousand minke whales could die in agony in the meantime.

And then there was Safety at Sea. This agenda item is tabled by Japan at every meeting and purports to show how innocent Japanese whale researchers are intimidated and assaulted by vicious vegan Sea Shepherders in the Antarctic seas. Some of the images are dramatic enough to bring home the seriousness of the conflict, but I suspect many in the room are glad someone is standing up for whales. Japan wants the Netherlands to strip Sea Shepherd’s vessels of its flags, and Australia to deny them entry, but both insist it isn’t the job of the IWC to control the behaviour of ships at sea, but rather the International Maritime Organization. We will see what develops between now and the next IWC meeting. Meanwhile, Sea Shepherd has just launched a new vessel that looked immense in the photograph displayed on the screen by Japan, and is said to be faster than any of Japan’s vessels. It could just tip the scales, for once in favour of whales.

By Paul Spong,

Portoroz Slovenia,

October 27 2016

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