Business as usual – June 19th 2006

IWC St. Kitts Day Four

Business as usual

After the drama of the past days, Day 4 at the St. Kitts IWC meeting was somewhat anticlimactic. No votes were taken, and the only resolution passed by consensus (with St. Kitts registering an objection but not forcing a vote). In essence, without mentioning names, the resolution condemned Greenpeace for its determined efforts to prevent Japan from killing whales in the Antarctic. The text stated: “the Commission and its Contracting Governments do not condone any actions that are a risk to human life and property in relation to these activities of vessels at sea, and urges persons and entities to refrain from such acts”. The resolution, submitted by Australia, Netherlands, New Zealand and the USA, was aimed at forestalling an impending attempt by Japan to remove Greenpeace’s NGO credentials. The strategy worked in that Japan was sufficiently mollified to let the matter drop, for the moment. The rest of the Commission, apart from St. Kitts & Nevis, seemed content to move onto other business. Greenpeace, incidentally, has announced its intention to return to the Antarctic to continue its heroic defense of whales.

The day began with uncontroversial presentations of the final parts of the Scientific Committee’s report: environmental issues, whale watching and small cetaceans. All these are items Japan wants removed from the IWC’s agenda, but fortunately for whales it has so far failed. Prior to this year’s meeting, the Scientific Committee held a workshop on noise which concluded that seismic testing can have serious impacts on cetaceans. Extreme caution and long term monitoring were recommended. The workshop was attended by industry representatives in addition to scientists, so the work may well have immediate benefits for the critically endangered western gray whale population which is threatened by oil & gas exploration near the Sakhalin Islands. In commenting on the Scientific Committee’s work on environment, New Zealand mentioned that a workshop on global warming is scheduled for 2008, a clear indication that the scientific work of the IWC is moving towards consideration of this ultimate threat to whales.

The report on whale watching brought mixed news. Impacts of whale watching vessels on several cetacean species have now been demonstrated, as have impacts from other vessel traffic. At the same time, there are huge economic benefits to whale watching, which is now growing at 45% annually in some small Pacific island communities. It is very clear that the economic benefits of whale watching far outweigh those of whaling. Not to be outdone, Iceland, Japan and St. Lucia stated that whaling and whale watching are not incompatible, and can exist side by side. How that could happen in practice is a little unclear, but the issue was not pursued. At this point in the meeting, pretty much everyone seemed to just want to get through the agenda, so many issues and points were dropped, forgotten or glossed over.

Such was the case with Japan’s horrific slaughter of small cetaceans. Thousands upon thousands of Dall’s porpoises are killed with hand held harpoons by Japanese fishermen each year, and there is no population estimate, so the extent of the damage is unknown. One might have expected outrage, but all that happened was a mild expression of concern and a request that Japan provide more information.

Likewise, the huge issues of cruelty and suffering barely caused a ripple in the room. A workshop on killing methods was held prior to this meeting, but little if any progress is evident if the goal is to kill whales without making them suffer. St. Vincents and the Grenadines, which kills humpback whales under “aboriginal” permission, announced that they have reduced death times to around 20’, and seemed proud of the achievement. Perhaps even more disturbing, Japan announced that it would not provide the IWC with time-to-death data until the IWC is “normalized”. Even this outrage barely attracted notice.

Tomorrow is the last day of this 58th meeting of the IWC.

For more about the meeting, see:

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