Thousands of whales saved from whalers

26 June 2010

The Cousteau Society spoke in the name of Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who would be 100 years old this month of June 2010, during the plenary session the International Whaling Commission, on Thursday, June 24. The Cousteau Society called for the Commission to focus on its conservation-related work, which has achieved brilliant success while, historically, the IWC has failed miserably at regulating whaling.

Despite the expressed willingness to extend the participation of non-governmental organizations and representatives of civil society, the Commission delayed and limited the time allocated time to one-half hour and, reduced the number of speakers to merely eight—five on behalf of whales and three on behalf of whaling. The NGO statements were only made possible by the insistence of the delegation from France, supported by Ecuador and Sweden. The U.S. and Iceland Commissioners walked out as the NGOs took the floor, expressing their disinterest in the voice of civil society.

For three years, through ten meetings, IWC discussions have been monopolized by a compromise proposal ironically titled Consensus Decision for the Conservation of Whales. The proposal would allow sanctioned commercial whaling to replace years of defiance of the 1982 moratorium. After two days—out of a five-day plenary—of closed-door meetings, the proposal was shelved, thanks to powerful advocacy by NGOs and staunch opposition from European Union and Latin American countries. A new one-year period for “reflection and discussion” was approved.

The proposal includes allotments of whaling quotas to nations that have been hunting under legal loopholes in the Convention for the Regulation of Whaling—scientific permits, objections and reservations. In the 2009 and 2009/10 seasons, more than 1,500 whales were killed under these exceptions. Whalers have obdurately resisted any attempts to infringe on their perceived “rights” to hunt, allowing themselves unilaterally devised quotas of whales killed even in an IWC sanctuary in the Southern Ocean. The adoption of the proposal would have authorized the killing of more than ten thousand whales for commercial purposes over the next ten years. Now, with the rejection of the proposal, whalers can continue their slaughter only in defiance of the world’s preeminent authority on cetacean conservation and management.

Throughout the negotiations of the proposed Consensus, the Commission’s Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee have continued fruitful and critical work in research and management of whales, to increase the body of knowledge of cetaceans and the numerous threats (acoustic pollution, habitat loss, ship strikes, bycatch and climate change) that these animals face today. The Cousteau Society urges that future IWC meetings focus on the global issues of whale conservation and not the national interests of whalers. It is past time to implement a conservation plan with detailed budget and timetable to fight against the expansion and intensification of threats to whales.

In a final day of wrangling, the Commission yielded to a repeated request from Denmark, on behalf of Greenland, to expand its Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quota to include humpback whales. After a strong effort by the EU and Latin Americans to force at least a minimum of promises and changes, Greenland was allocated 9 humpbacks (instead of ten) by giving up 10 fins and promising to return next year with a genuine needs statement, to include cultural reasons for wanting humpbacks, better plans for efficient and local use of whale products and more consultation with range states that also benefit from the same population through whale-watching. It was a consensus decision, with many nations "not blocking consensus" and insisting that their objections be recorded in the minutes of the action. Accolades are deserved by Costa Rica in particular for not backing down when St. Kitts & Nevis attacked concerns about the unjustified request: "Some countries are patting themselves on the back for not blocking consensus," stated St, Kitts & Nevis, accusing Commissioners of treating Greenland in a condescending manner. Kudos also go to Spain, Mexico, Australia, Chile, .Argentina, Panama and India. The US supported the request.

See Couseau Society speech at the NGO Session >>

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