IWC Day Two: Greenland humpbacks: to kill or not – June 23rd 2009

The morning session of IWC 61 (’09) Day Two was taken up by discussion of the “future” of the IWC, and the need to continue Chairman Hogarth’s efforts to resolve the deadlock that has arisen in negotiations, i.e. the failure of wishful thinking.  The meeting was presented with a draft document titled “Consensus resolution on the extension of Small Working Group on the Future of the IWC until the 62nd Annual Meeting of the Commission” and asked to approve it.  Getting the issue softly out of the way would have allowed the meeting to move on to other matters, and apparently this is what Chairman Hogarth expected to happen.  After all, he had virtually been assured of consensus agreement at a private (read secret) Commissioners-only meeting on Sunday.  Possibly some delegates weren’t paying attention, or else second thoughts had occurred in the interim, because many voices suddenly wanted to be heard.  Predictable positions emerged as plainly as ever, making it quite clear that consensus was absent in the room. India contributed its belief that the 21st century should be dedicated to the recovery of whale populations after centuries of exploitation, a sentiment shared by many.  Sadly and ominously, a dour note was sounded when a proposal to delete the reference to “a strong belief in maintaining healthy populations of whales and especially in the restoration of severely reduced populations” from the resolution.  If not this, what, opined one observer, is the IWC about?  Fortunately, Russia provided a light moment, amiably describing the establishment of a small smoking group with some Pacific Islanders, with the intention of studying the effects of the rain on this activity.

After lunch, things became far darker.  The agenda item was the report of the Aboriginal Subsistence sub-committee, but the meat of the afternoon session was in Greenland’s request to add the deaths of 10 humpback whales to the long list of cetaceans if kills annually to feed its people, and incidentally create profits for supermarket retailers and whale product wholesalers.  Yes, Greenland’s aboriginal whalers are partly commercial whalers.  Aboriginal subsistence needs are generally regarded sympathetically by IWC members, but humpbacks have been a much beloved iconic species for decades.  Virtually anyone, including Greenlanders, who propose making humpbacks gush their life’s blood as they experience agonizing death, can expect opposition. This must have been Greenland’s expectation, because until last night, during a fun-filled reception hosted by Madeira’s government, no one (apart from the proponents) knew what was about to happen.  Greenland had submitted its proposal to the Secretariat at the last possible moment yesterday, and it had not been reviewed, as is customary, by the Aboriginal Subsistence sub-committee.

Last year, when Greenland (Denmark) proposed killing humpbacks, the IWC refused permission.  This time round, though the proposal is the same, i.e. 10 humpbacks to be killed each year, the outcome is far less clear.  The problem lies in the decision by the group of IWC members who belong to the European Union.  Even though the EU is not a member of the IWC, the group of 24 EU countries that are members decided to vote as a bloc before this year’s meeting started.  Suddenly, they are immersed in a nightmare.  One of them, Denmark, is the proposer; others (e.g. Sweden) want EU members to abstain, knowing perfectly well that if they do so, Greenland’s wish will be granted.  Getting consensus about a common position among the EU members in this room suddenly looks about as likely as Chairman Hogarth’s prospects for getting consensus about the future direction this chaotic organization will go in.

Tomorrow, the NGOs will have a chance to speak, 3 on each side of the barrier, for 5 minutes each.  Perhaps rays of light, or pearls of wisdom will descend on this room under the volcanoe.   We can only hope.            

For more information & insights about IWC 2009:   

Thanks to WDCS for photos

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