The fine art of holding one’s nose


IWC 2014 Day Three

There was some good news today. The “Safety at Sea” agenda item, which Japan routinely uses to bash Sea Shepherd and hitherto Greenpeace for opposing its “research” activities in the Antarctic, was dealt with in just 34 minutes. We’re accustomed to it dragging on for hours, staving off sleep in a darkened room while slides and video are projected and the horrors of the latest protest are explained. Perhaps it was the Chair’s general admonition about brevity, or her warning about the consequences of repetition, but mercifully there was barely time to digest lunch before we were out of the Whale Wars and into Other Scientific Activities. This is not to say that the issue is trivial, rather that we’ve heard it all before and know what to expect. Japan will complain, the flag states (Netherlands and Australia) will explain that the IWC is not the proper forum for airing the complaint (it should be the International Maritime Organization) and New Zealand Australia and the USA will attempt to distribute the blame evenly. The whales are nowhere to be seen in this battle of giants.

For some unclear reason, this year’s meeting is being held over just 4 rather than the customary 5 days, so there has been pressure to complete the agenda from the outset. Getting rid of the Scientific Committee’s report in 20’ was a good start, and things had been going along quite swimmingly on this benign Adriatic shore (with customary postponements of tricky items) until they came to a grinding halt post afternoon coffee break when the usually easy topic of Infractions came up. It suddenly became a big deal that the Commission had failed to tidy up its rejection of Denmark’s request on behalf of Greenland at the last meeting in Panama. That meeting was followed by business as usual in Greenland, where hundreds of whales were slaughtered without formal permission from the IWC. Given that Greenland got its way right out of the gate at this year’s meeting, settling the issue for the next 4 years, it might have been easy to turn a blind eye to the slip. But wait. What happened in Panama was the IWC saying NO followed by Greenland doing whatever it wanted. The broader implications of the situation were easy to grasp. A giant loophole has been created, in which a country denied a quota can just go ahead and kill whales anyway, with apparently no consequences. As of the end of today, there was no resolution to this conundrum, and how to handle it was pushed back to tomorrow.

Already, it is clear that time is running out. The list of items pushed back to tomorrow is long, with some of them being the most difficult and important issues IWC 65 has before it. At the head of the line is how to handle the ICJ (International Court of Justice) decision against Japan’s “scientific” whaling in the Antarctic. From the language it has been using, Japan seems to think it actually won a victory at the ICJ. One gets the impression that Japan thinks it was given equal permission to kill and conserve whales by the IJC, and that it merely has to change the number II to III in its Antarctic research plan to proceed. There is a long lineup of delegations who beg to differ. New Zealand’s resolution on special permit (“scientific”) whaling pretty much must be dealt with tomorrow, and despite fiddling and arm twisting, attempts to find common ground have so far failed. It will be interesting to see what happens, because two forces are at work here. One is the urge to work things out, the other to stand and fight. New Zealand, which uses fighting words to make it clear that it is firmly on the side of whales, also revealed a disturbing weak side today. It is apparently quite content to allow the Maui dolphin to slip quietly into oblivion (biological extinction) by failing to take urgent actions to protect its habitat. Maui dolphins are being caught as “by-catch” in gill nets. Fewer than 50 of them remain, yet it possesses sufficient genetic diversity to have a good change of recovery if it is fully protected. New Zealand claims to be trying, but cites the need to “balance a range of considerations, some of which are broader that those considered by the IWC” in designing its actions. What New Zealand is talking about are commercial interests – a gill net fishery, ocean mining, and oil and gas development. For shame.

Also a matter for national shame is Japan’s response to the ICJ judgement. As mentioned, Japan is hard at work designing a new program to replace the discredited JARPA II in the belief that this will allow it to get back to business as usual. In the meantime, a tricky question about what to do with the data collected under a programme that has been declared illegal arises. A split occurred In the Scientific Committee when the Chair ordered (requested) it to conduct a review of JARPA II, with possibly a majority of the Committee refusing. That refusal took up a good chunk of time today, and the issue of how to deal with JARPA II data is still open. Odds are that it will be dealt with by a vote tomorrow, which Japan may well lose.

Tomorrow is going to tell us a lot about resolve and direction in this fragile body. Will Japan get its way and achieve its dream of opening up coastal whaling? Will JARPA II data become acceptable though tainted? Will New Zealand suddenly find room to accommodate Japan’s desire to go back to the Antarctic and kill whales for “research” purposes? Will a majority of Commission members learn enough about the fine art of holding one’s nose to get to the end of the day?

Stay tuned.


by Paul Spong

Portoroz, Slovenia,

September 17, 2014

Listen now

Stream our live hydrophone audio