IWC 67 Day Three

IWC 67 Day Threee

Two Solitudes

This morning began with a presentation by the USA of the revised ASW (aboriginal and subsistence whaling) Bundle.   The most controversial details (carry over and automatic renewal) provisions had been massaged sufficiently to satisfy many of the objections that had been raised yesterday, or at least satisfy many of the countries which were uneasy or inclined to oppose it yesterday.   The changes were  insufficient to satisfy the BAG (Buenos Aires Group) which consists of the Latin American countries who are the whales’ greatest defenders.  So a vote was held.  I’m quite sure the USA was holding its breath as the vote proceeded., but in the  end when the Secretary announced the result there was an audible sigh of relief in the room.  The USA had achieved predictability and stability for the Alaskan families and communities which depend on Bowheads for food and cultural continuity.  There was an instant celebration in the room and beyond. Nothing was noticed or said about the side consequences of the decision.   Greenland gets to kill more whales than ever and so does Russia.  Changes like removing length and time of year restrictions on killing fin whales near Greenland must have consequences but they are unknown and certainly in this forum unnoticed.  While the decision was a victory for the USA, at the same time it was a defeat for whales and their defenders. There are so many side effects to the decision that will resonate for years, even decades to come.  For me the ugliest consequence is the permission St. Vincent now has for the whalers of Bequia to go on killing humpbacks whenever they come close.  The quota is 4 per year and includes a “carry over” provision.  Within 7 years 28 humpbacks could be killed.  The decision flies in the face of a whale watching economy that is growing in the Caribbean and based on identified individuals.   Go figure. The only sense I can make of it is that the USA was so desperate to achieve its objective for far north Alaskan communities that it was willing to give everything else away.  Poor humpbacks.

The ASW decision engendered such a feeling of bonhomie in the room that several whale friendly decisions were taken with only token opposition.  A resolution on advancing understanding of the role of whales in ecosystem functioning was passed after a vote with 63% support.  It was so interesting to hear virtually the same objections repeated time after time by Japan’s allies – irrelevant, outside the scope of the Convention, etc.  Possibly as a result of this defeat, two more resolutions were passed by consensus after the chair of the Finance and Administration Committee assured the audience they would not have financial consequences. These resolutions, on anthropogenic noise and ghost gear for a while produced an aura of cooperation during the afternoon session.  For me, the highlight of the feel good phase was Belgium’s comment that “protecting whales and dolphins means protecting ourselves”.  Yes!  Unfortunately though predictably the cosy feeling didn’t last.

Following the afternoon coffee break chairman Morishita introduced Agenda item 12, Future of the IWC.  It seems he did so because the meeting was falling behind schedule and he wanted to catch up.  I’m not sure if it was a mistake but it did open a can of worms.  There are two visions of the future.  One is described in the Florianopolis Declaration which sees a future in which whales are respected and valued, only treated in non-harmful ways.  Naturally this is anathema to Japan, so suddenly we were hearing comments about how some members had been so nice to others they deserved reciprocal gestures such as recognizing the validity if killing whales sustainably. Unsurprisingly the appeals didn’t fly.  After more than an hour of overtime the meeting ended for the day.

Quite clearly we are back to normal:

Two solitudes.

by Paul Spong

Florianopolis Brazil,

September 12, 2018








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