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IWC 2014 Day One

The 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission, being held in fairytale seaside surroundings in Portoroz, Slovenia, began pretty much where the last meeting in Panama left off, with the issue of Greenland’s request to kill whales for “aboriginal” consumption. Readers who have followed the IWC story will recall that Greenland was denied its request in 2012 because its “needs” statement and explanation could not persuade a ¾ majority of Commission members.

During the interim 2 years, Denmark somehow managed to convince its fellow European Union (EU) members of Greenland’s case, so the first substantive issue debated at this meeting opened with a fait accompli. The votes of the EU members ensured the ¾ majority needed to enshrine Greenland’s “take” of 164 minke, 12 fin, 2 bowhead and 10 humpback whales per year for the next 4 years. Denmark apparently accomplished this by coercion, threatening to leave the EU if Greenland didn’t get its way. The result was an 81% vote in favour of Greenland, despite evidence that the hunt is in part commercial, and that the real needs of Greenland’s population are smaller than the demand.  Only the Latin American “Buenos Aires” group were opposed. Monaco, Australia and Gabon abstained, and New Zealand voted yes, explaining that though it would have preferred abstaining, it wanted the issue settled . Interesting perhaps, if these 4 votes had been opposed, Greenland would have lost once again. It did not, and emerged triumphant.

The way in which Greenland obtained sanction for its objectives perfectly illustrates the way in which the IWC operates. Arms are twisted, deals are made, and the whales are pretty much left to fall by the wayside.

Falling by the wayside is pretty much what is happening to the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, one again. The proposal, fleshed out in greater detail than ever, has been on the IWC table for more than 20 years. The logic behind its creation is irrefutable in that it would not only protect whales within a huge area of ocean that were once subject to the greatest exploitation in history, thus promoting recovery of decimated populations, but it would encourage and facilitate research, education and tourism in countries around its perimeter. The opposition is knee-jerk, a response to Japan’s insistence that whales anywhere and everywhere must remain open to “sustainable use” regardless of their present circumstances. The language used by opponents invariably bears the same stamp: Japan. It will come as no surprise when the vote is held at this meeting if once again it fails to meet the ¾ majority bar. This despite a meeting in Montevideo earlier this year at which numerous African governments opposed to the Sanctuary at the IWC signed on to a resolution supporting its creation. Go figure.

One more bizarre note. The report of the Scientific Committee was dealt with in a 20’ slide show replete with “there is no time to discuss” comments by the Chair, Japan’s Toshihide Kitakado.   Previously, the report of this most essential arm of the Commission was explained piece by piece throughout the meeting, as agenda items were discussed. This time, the scientists’ work was compressed such that it might as well have been garbage. The reports of the Committee exist of course, and are available to be read on the IWC web site, but if the casino next door offered the wager, I’d be willing to bet that few at this meting have read it. Ignorance, they say, can be bliss.

by Paul Spong

September 15 2014

 

A new chance for whales

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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

One for the Ages

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KISS THE SKY! The Orca Freedom Concert was a fabulous event that brought together some of rock & roll’s greatest stars along with a brilliant new voice and a haunting cello to wow a crowd of nearly 900 at Seattle’s Sky Church on Earth Day April 22nd.

The idea for an orca freedom concert surfaced on the Orca-live web site mid last December, after a flock of entertainers led by Bare Naked Ladies, Willie Nelson and Heart cancelled gigs at SeaWorld following appeals from their fans after the release of the documentary film Blackfish. Within days, a conversation started with Dolphin Spirit’s Michael Reppy, whose monumental trans-Pacific solo sails for whales inspired campaigns for Corky and Taiji dolphins, and legendary rock’nroller Country Joe McDonald of Woodstock fame and early Greenpeace save the whales campaigns. Both liked the idea, though the practical details made it a formidable task that would take time and energy to pull off. We needed a venue, a promoter, and artists willing and available to perform. Country Joe volunteered to perform immediately, as did Andrew Morse in New York. We tried but failed to get to Willie Nelson, didn’t have a clue about getting to Bare Naked Ladies, and then had the thought of contacting documentary film maker and orca advocate Michael Harris in Seattle, who had previously worked with Heart’s Ann & Nancy Wilson. Michael quickly got the sisters’ agreement to perform, and Ann & Nancy came up with the idea of doing the show on Earth Day. Michael volunteered to produce the event pro bono, and set about lining up a venue. His connections with Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum (EMP) led to an offer of a donated venue, EMP’s Sky Church, which was inspired by a vision of Jimi Hendrix and features incredible acoustics along with a 60’ high LED screen to use as a backdrop to performances. We were off and running. A small group got together in weekly conference calls to plot and plan the details. In short order, LA guitarst Arielle agreed to perform; Ann and Nancy suggested Joan Jett, who came on board with her Blackhearts; then Heart came up with cellist Jamie Sieber and superstar Graham Nash. By March, the lineup was set, a poster and merchandise had been created, and tickets were being sold. In the realm of concert organizing, this one happened at lightning speed.

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The evening of the event, we took the Monorail from our hotel, feeling like we were entering the maw of a giant as we passed through the unreal sculpture that architect Frank Gehry created as the EMP Museum, and wandered past the Space Needle in balmy sunshine, moving to the breathy beat of South American flutes as we made our way to the EMP entrance. We were greeted by the sight of a long lineup waiting to get in. A “Full House” sign stood in front of the line. What a thrill; it was all going to work!

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Inside, the scene was already bustling. We passed a table laden with KISS THE SKY! bags full of swag ready to hand to VIP ticket holders,

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chatted briefly with Mary Jo Rice, Michael Reppy and Shari Tarantino of Earth Island and Orca Conservancy who had put the swag bags together, then an enthusiastic teacher whose kids had created a great freedom banner and climbed the long stairway leading to Sky Church.

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A big curtain hung in front but we could hear energetic sound checks underway – even outside, the sound was amazing. A short while later, we were at the meet and greet reception for VIPs, watching Joan Jett’s charming interactions with her fans, willingly posing for photos and not minding at all. We were delighted when Ian (Mac) McLagan joined us. Earlier at breakfast he had enthralled us with stories from the good old days when he was a member of Faces and Small Faces. Such a great person – hard to believe we were sitting with rock’n roll royalty!

The concert got underway with Country Joe McDonald coming casually onto the stage as if he was a stage hand, picking up a guitar and getting right into a rousing version of his classic “Save the Whales” with new lyrics about captive orcas needing to be free.

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The audience loved it. As Country Joe performed, images of free orcas in the wild filled the huge screen behind him. What a start!

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MC Norman B came on

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and introduced Andrew Morse and his band, a great group of old time rock’nrollers from New York and Texas who proceeded to belt out “New York Times” and other tunes that got the crowd going.

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Arielle, the young guitar virtuoso from Los Angeles brought a change of pace with her lovely voice, offering her newly released CD “California” and other songs, along with pertinent comments about the issues that brought everyone together.

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I was standing off to the side behind the mixing board, waiting to go on, so caught a view of the audience from backstage and saw clearly that they were loving Arielle. Then it was me. Norman B made the introduction, and suddenly I was standing with a mic in my hand above a sea of faces.

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I spent the next 5’ talking about Corky, impressed by how quiet the audience became as I spoke, and ending with a rousing “we want our orcas free!”. The applause told me the audience got it, so I was happy. I was also happy to have done my bit early and able to relax and just enjoy the rest of the concert.

In a word, it was fabulous. Country Joe came on twice more, tying the segments of the concert together masterfully. Joan Jett contributed a long incredible set with her Blackhearts, displaying unreal energy and poise, and inserting comments about the context of the event.

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Joan gave the audience her greatest hits, including “I love rock and roll” which she had told SeaWorld it could no longer use. Helena and I stood in the wings of the crowd, transported back in time. Wow!

Earth Island’s Dave Phillips spoke about Keiko’s successful journey home and the disinformation about it spread by the captive industry;

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And Ken Balcomb, whose Center for Whale Research has followed Southern Resident orcas for decades, spoke about the certainty that Lolita has family she can return home to.

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A beautiful heartwarming performance by cellist Jamie Sieber set up the entrance of Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson and their band.

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Heart gave us a wonderful performance, including their first big hit “Dog and butterfly” then “Baby Wild”, with Ann & Nancy adding eloquent comments about free orcas and ending the dark days of captivity; then a rousing version of Bob Dylan’s “Ring the Bells” that had us transfixed.

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A brief interlude brought concert producer Michael Harris on stage to receive a plaque from Ann and Nancy, thanking him for his efforts.

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Then the Wilson sisters introduced Graham Nash.

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The Hall of Famer elevated the mood with his comments and joined perfectly with Ann and Nancy in a heart wrenching “To the last whale” as well as other songs that gave us and the audience a huge lift.

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By the time the last note faded away we were mesmerized and just didn’t want the evening to end.

To repeat myself, it had been simply fabulous!

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A happy crowd poured out of Sky Church, down the long stairway and out into the night.

Back at OrcaLab, Marie Fournier, who had kindly taken care of things while we were away, watched the show on line, as did 9,000 others from around the world.  The image Marie sent us of me at the concert with OrcaLab and Blackney Pass in the background was to say the least, surreal.

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At the beginning it had seemed a long shot. But thanks to producer Michael Harris and EMP, all the performers, and the diligent work of Earth Island’s Mary Jo Rice, Dolphin Spirit’s Michael Reppy, and Orca Conservancy’s Shari Tarantino, “we” had done it. We are hugely grateful to all of them, along with Jen McHarry who designed the poster and merchandise, MC Norman B, the crew who managed the magnificent video display, the stage and sound crews, Ecojoia who produced the merchandise (still available at http://www.ecojoia.com/index.php/stores/partner-all/sjd/eii), Charity Buzz who managed the successful silent auction, and everyone who donated and bid on auction items, NGOs and everyone who helped get the word out, and sponsors Guitar Center and the Pacific Whale Watch association.

Afterwards, when we were discussing sending our thanks! to the artists who had contributed their time and talents, we received this from Country Joe:

Congratulations to all involved in Kiss The Sky. I had a wonderful time and felt honoured to be part of the show. Do not bother sending me a letter thanking me for my participation, this is a cause that takes a team and the thanks we get is of course the hope, the hope, the hope, that some day, perhaps soon, humans will no longer enslave sea mammals for their entertainment. We no longer need captured animals as we all now have, thanks to the internet and media an ever growing body of words and images that give us so much more than a captured animal can ever do in a show. Save the Whales, Save The Earth, Save Ourselves. love, Joe

A perfect summation!

Later, as the reminiscences started flowing, EMP’s co-producer Andrew McKeag added:

It was One for the Ages.  

Indeed.

by Paul Spong

May 31 2014

Many thanks to David Howitt and Baby Wild’s film crew for the images.