New whaling compromise is step backwards for whales

Posted on 23 February 2010    
Minke whale (<i>Balaenoptera acutorostrata</i>), Norway.
Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), Norway.
A new draft compromise on whaling released by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) today set a dangerous precedent that the international community must reject, WWF said.

A working group within the IWC today unveiled a new compromise aimed at unlocking the stalled negotiation process between countries fundamentally opposed to whaling and states that support it.

While the compromise contains many positive elements for whale conservation that would help bring the IWC into the 21st Century, the compromise could legitimise ‘scientific’ whaling by Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

“If there is one single place in the world where whales should be fully protected, it is the Southern Ocean,” said Wendy Elliott, Species Manager at WWF-International. “What we need is to eliminate all whaling in the Southern Ocean, including Japanese commercial whaling thinly disguised as ‘scientific research’. But what we have now is a deal which could make it even easier for Japan to continue taking whales in this ecologically unique place.”

The IWC has maintained a ban on all commercial whaling since 1986. But, defying this ban, Japan, Norway and Iceland use loopholes in the IWC’s founding treaty to kill more than 1,500 whales a year. The loopholes allow whaling under ‘objection’ to management decisions (Norway and Iceland) and “scientific” whaling for research purposes (Japan).

The IWC also provides special protection to a critical whale feeding area, the Southern Ocean surrounding the continent of Antarctica, which the IWC established as a 50 million square kilometre whale sanctuary in 1994. This extra layer of protection signifies the importance of this area as the primary feeding habitat of many of the Southern Hemisphere’s whale populations.

Additionally, the proposal sets a process in motion that could endorse quotas which haven’t yet had a full and proper scientific review. “It is difficult to see how determining quotas through politics rather than science can be considered progress,” added Elliott.

The are some positive aspects of the compromise including increased efforts to secure the recovery of depleted whale populations, action on critical conservation threats facing whales such as such as bycatch and climate change, and improved governance and compliance. However, the compromise cannot be accepted by WWF as long as it allows whaling in the Southern Ocean.

The new compromise which will be discussed by a group of IWC countries at a meeting in March, is intended to be adopted by the IWC at its next full meeting in June this year.
Minke whale (<i>Balaenoptera acutorostrata</i>), Norway.
Minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), Norway.
© WWF / Morten LINDHARD Enlarge

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