There’s a déjà vu quality to the scene that surrounds the days before the opening of this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). It happens to be in Agadir, Morocco, and like other venues of late, a casino is next door, so a rolling of the dice analogy comes easily to mind. Both “sides” are intensely involved in pre-meeting discussions and negotiations, from which media witnesses have been entirely excluded. NGOs have been invited to some of the sessions, and at times a few have even been allowed to voice brief opinions, but little in the way of clarity about what is really happening has emerged. The “deal” which would see the renewal of legally sanctioned commercial whaling and effectively end the moratorium, that took effect in 1986, is apparently still very much in play. Leading the effort to achieve the whaling equivalent of “peace in our time” are New Zealand and the USA. Both are surprising participants, given that Candidate for President Obama made an unqualified promise to strengthen the moratorium on commercial whaling, and that New Zealand has long been in the forefront of efforts to bring an end to the dark days of the whaling era.
As a New Zealander who has spend much of his life abroad, I have never been more proud of my home country than in meetings of the IWC, when New Zealand’s impassioned defence of whales, and opposition to their wanton slaughter, was a lynchpin of the hope that people around the world held for their future – that whales will soon see a day in which they no longer face the threat of bloody death at the hands of men who see them only as objects to destroy, render and sell. I recall the entire New Zealand delegation standing to deliver a vigorous Haka as part of their plea, and the words used by the New Zealand Commissioner in commenting on the IWC’s search for direction: “What the IWC needs is a moral compass”. It never occurred to me that New Zealand would desert this high ground on the field that is no less than a battle for life on our planet. But it has.
In becoming active partners in a process that will shred the environmental movement’s crowning accomplishment, New Zealand and the USA have redrawn the line between defenders and exploiters of whales. Sadly, both nations now stand on the side of the whalers, apparently even agreeing to the slaughter of whales for profit within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Yes, as the proponents of the deal claim, the draft agreement does reduce the number of whales that will be slaughtered over the next 10 years, but the key element and the one that Japan wants so badly, is that the killing will be legal. Japan’s whalers will no longer have to hide their ugly business behind “research” placards and propaganda; they will no longer be pirates on the high seas.
In the background, research into the development of new products made from whales, including medicines, cosmetics, and feed for farmed fish goes on quietly, with dozens of new patents granted or being applied for. See the truly grim picture of this future for whales at: http://www.wdcs.org.uk/story_details.php?select=249
How can it be, one might ask, that Japan’s utterly irresponsible behaviour merits such a reward? Giving it the prize it has sought for so long is akin to a school bully being awarded a badge of merit, out of fear, a senseless act fraught with unknown consequences. What might that bully become?
As a New Zealander, I hang my head in shame, as must many of my country folk, and I am quite sure that many Americans feel ashamed of their leadership too. Collectively experiencing a sense of betrayal, we now rely on the hope that Australia and other staunch defenders of whales will rally enough support for the cause of justice in our world’s oceans, to turn back the tide. In Agadir, Morocco, on the shores of a sparkling blue Atlantic Ocean, once again, the battle is about to be joined.
“Save the whales, save the earth” is an old slogan, but it has never had more meaning than today.
We stand on the brink of a precipice. Do we fall, or step back?
By Paul Spong
June 20 2010
Some links to additional information, news stories, videos, and suggestions for action:
http://www.youtube.com/user/SecondNatureStudios#p/u/2/OHn02AB5p2k (Australia/New Zealand PSA)
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/06/15/ahead-of-critical-meeting-on-whaling-japan-accused-of-buying-votes/ (Japan’s vote buying exposed)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/world/asia_pacific/10358046.stm (Japanese whistleblower story)
http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/17/2930032.htm (bribery denial story)
http://avaaz.org/en/whales_last_push/?cl=617931639&v=6635 (Avaaz petition has more than 900,000 names)
http://www.animalcampaigns.com/index.php/29/Marine-Conservation/wdcs-stop-whaling-petition.html (WDCS petition)
http://www.wdcs.org/stop/killing_trade/index.php (WDCS campaign)