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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


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