IWC day four – June 24th 2005

The fourth day of the 57th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission opened with Japan`s annual request to begin coastal commercial whaling again. Japan asked that it be allowed to kill 150 minke whales in whaling operations conducted from 4 ports. The session began with a speech and PowerPoint presentation by the Vice Mayor of Shimonoseki, the Japanese city which hosted the 2002 IWC meeting, and a former coastal whaling base. The Vice Mayor recounted the 2000 year history of whaling in Japan, described the renewed enthusiasm for whaling which is sweeping Shimonoseki, and explained the hardships his community face in the absence of whaling. Young boys are being denied their life`s dream of becoming a harpooner. The speech was followed by an impassioned plea by Japan for the resumption of coastal whaling. Several points were raised in justification – the healthy state of minke whale populations around Japan, hardships faced by former whaling communities, and the need to support traditional culture.

The subsequent debate followed 2 lines of argument. Japan`s supporters claimed that all that was being asked was fair and equal treatment of traditional whalers, and besides, whale populations around Japan are in great shape. On the opposite side, it was argued that commercial whaling cannot take place as long as the moratorium is in effect, and that the Scientific Committee has actually expressed considerable concern about some of the populations of minke whales in and near Japanese waters. Some opponents indicated that they might be willing to make concessions because of Japan`s traditions, if it was willing to re-allocate the whales it kills in North Pacific “scientific whaling” to the coastal communities it was advocating for. Opponents also pointed out that Japan`s case was based on emotion, a form of argument which Japan routinely rejects when it comes from the pro-whale side. When the vote was finally taken, Japan failed to obtain a majority by a 3 vote margin. There were 3 abstentions, including Denmark, a surprise because it is normally a staunch supporter of Japan.

The other drama of the day was the debate over the report of the Conservation Committee. The IWC`s newest committee got off to a rocky start following its birth in Berlin in 2003. Its very existence was immediately challenged by Japan and its allies. Iceland wanted to change the committee`s mandate and change the name to something like the “committee for sustainable development”. Fortunately, enough nations (Brazil, Belgium & others) have hung in long enough to make it apparent to (almost) all that conservation issues have a real place within the IWC. Two topics have been selected for initial attention – ship strikes and “stinky” gray whales. After a barrage of criticism, led by Iceland and backed up by Norway and Japan`s compliant allies, there was general agreement that the explanation for gray whales being so polluted they are unfit for even consumption as dog food is worth seeking.

By the end of the day, just one substantive issue remained – a resolution being worked on by Sweden, Denmark and others, which aims to move the process of agreement on the Revised Management Scheme forward to conclusion.

For further stories on this year`s meeting, see ECO at

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