IWC day three – May 30th 2007

The attempt at camaraderie that characterized the opening day of this meeting, and spilled over into Day Two (with occasional lapses) broke out into more familiar sniping and even open warfare during today’s long session. By the time the meeting broke up, after 10pm, the two camps (pro & anti whaling) seemed as irreconcilable as ever. This is not to say there weren’t moments of togetherness, but the one that stood out was over a side issue, “safety at sea”. Sea Shepherd’s actions during Japan’s last “research” expedition in the Antarctic were universally and energetically condemned. There was no visible dissent, and by association, Greenpeace was included. The commentary quickly escalated to the point where nation after nation rose to condemn the protesters for killing an innocent whaler. New Zealand, a co-sponsor of a resolution (with Japan) praised Greenpeace in its introductory remarks, but the facts were swiftly abandoned. It took a late intervention by the UK to point out that the fire on Japan’s factory ship Nissan Maru, which took the life of a unfortunate crew member, had nothing whatsoever to do with the protests. Sea Shepherd’s vessels had actually left the scene before the fatal fire broke out, and moreover, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza had stood by at New Zealand’s request, ready to lend assistance to the Nissan Maru. The offer was declined. For 10 days the huge oil laden vessel drifted dangerously close to the world’s largest penguin colony, causing real fear of an environmental disaster. Fortunately, a remarkable spell of calm weather bought the time needed to effect repairs, and the stricken whaler managed to limp home having accomplished “only” half its deadly purpose. The failure saved the lives of 500 whales.

This day opened with final comments and a vote on the proposed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. To no-one’s surprise, the initiative failed once again to obtain the required ¾ majority, but the 39 yes v 29 no result (with 3 abstentions) must have been encouraging to Brazil and the other proponents. They will keep trying.

Japan appears destined to fail, for the 20th year in row, to obtain the ¾ vote needed to approve its coastal whaling ambitions, despite an offer to negotiate numbers and swap the whales killed for part of its self awarded “research” quota. The request and offer brought sympathy and lavish praise from Japan’s allies, but were dismissed by critics. The divergence brought forth comparisons of the needs of Japan’s coastal communities to those of aboriginal people, and comments about the “commercial” character of aboriginal whaling evident in whale derived handicrafts and art. It was clear from the exchanges that the divide between the two camps remains. No vote was taken before lunch, and Japan’s request will come back later in the meeting.

After lunch, Greenland’s proposal to kill additional whales for subsistence needs returned to the floor. There was considerable relief that the request to kill 10 humpbacks had gone, and no-one seemed to have a problem with increasing the number of minkes killed off West Greenland to 200. However the proposal to begin killing bowheads remained a sticking point to consensus. The proposal was eventually put on hold again, pending further private discussions. The parties are not far apart and consensus will probably come before the meeting ends.

The most heated exchanges on this day came during the debate over “special permit” whaling by Japan and Iceland. The results of Japan’s 18 year JARPA I “research” programme, during which over 7,000 Antarctic minke whales died, were discussed at a workshop in Tokyo last December. To some members, the results proved the pointless nature of the science, and to others they proved its value. Words like “so-called” and “extremists” stirred the pot as a resolution calling on Japan to abandon its planned JARPA II programme was debated. The plan, which includes killing Antarctic humpback whales, is enormously offensive to New Zealand and Australia, but despite their impassioned pleas, Japan refused to budge. In the end, when a vote was taken, Japan and nearly 30 others refused to participate. The 40-2-1 result, though a victory for the anti-whaling side, brought no satisfaction to anyone.

There was one ray of light on day 3, general agreement about a planned Scientific Committee workshop on global warming. The benefits of non-lethal uses of whales such as whale watching were also widely agreed, though consensus on a resolution regarding them could not be found. Once again, most of the pro-whaling side refused to participate when a vote was taken. Denmark, to its credit, found no problem in joining the majority opinion on this issue. The meeting will resume at 8am on Thursday, the last day. It still has a long way to go.

Very unfortunately, Germany’s Commissioner collapsed at one point during the meeting today and had to be rushed to hospital. To everyone’s relief, the Chair later reported that she will be ok.

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