A sea of change for whales? – June 15th 2006

IWC 58: A sea change for whales?

Lush, tropical, beautiful, the Caribbean island of St. Kitts is the host of IWC 58, the 2006 meeting of the International Whaling Commission. The federation of St. Kitts & Nevis is one of 6 Caribbean nations which have collectively received a total of over $100 million US in aid from Japan since 1998 in exchange for their votes at the IWC. This year’s meeting will almost certainly see Japan accomplish its first objective, majority control of the IWC. While its new power may not result in an immediate return to commercial whaling, numerous consequences are expected to flow which will change the fundamental character of the Commission.

If (when) Japan gets its way, chances are the IWC will no longer dally in arcane distractions such as the fate of small cetaceans (dolphins, porpoises, orcas) or the (in)humanity of killing methods, or whale watching, conservation, ocean noise, the health of the oceans, not even the dire consequences global warming… it will revert solely to its original purpose, dividing up the whale pie. Japan’s position on each of these “side” issues has long been known, its objections to their inclusion consistent from year to year. The only question in St. Kitts will be how far Japan chooses to go in implementing its long held agenda.

Japan will likely test the waters on the first morning (June 16th) with a vote on secret balloting. This is a proposal Japan has made repeatedly in the past, without success. If it wins this vote, Japan will know it is finally in the IWC driver’s seat, and that the “reversal of history” it proclaimed prematurely at last year’s meeting in Korea is underway at last.

Getting to this point has been a long and expensive journey for Japan, one which has harmed its international reputation and damaged its relations with pro-whale nations like New Zealand and Australia. Undeterred, Japan has pressed on. If one of the rumours floating around this meeting is true, Japan may actually be within grasping distance of its ultimate goal, the return of legally sanctioned commercial whaling. It seems that the USA may be willing to trade whales and a permanent seat at the UN Security Council for Japan’s continued support of Bush’s Iraq war and the Bowhead (aboriginal subsistence) quota which is up for renewal at next year’s IWC meeting. The days to come will reveal whether there is any truth to the talk of diplomatic skullduggery.

Meanwhile, the signs of the tide turning are quite evident in this tiny corner of paradise. St. Kitts & Nevis (pop. 40,000) has barred the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise from entering its waters on the grounds that it represents a threat to national security; and on Sunday, the International Whaling Commission, at Japan’s behest, will likely toss Greenpeace out of the meeting, by majority vote.

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