WORLD: Whaling moratorium threatened


Zoe Kenny

The 20-year international moratorium on commercial whaling suffered a blow from the Japan-led campaign against it at this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting, which was held on the Caribbean island of Saint Kitts on June 16-20.

Despite losing all the substantive votes at the IWC (including votes on introducing a secret ballot at IWC meetings and on ending the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary), the Japan-led pro-whaling coalition narrowly won a vote to adopt a declaration that stated the 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling is "no longer necessary".

The "St Kitts and Nevis Declaration" stated that "after 14 years of discussion and negotiation, the IWC has failed to complete and implement a management regime to regulate commercial whaling". The resolution claimed that the IWC "can be saved from collapse only by implementing conservation and management measures which will allow controlled and sustainable whaling which would not mean a return to historic over-harvesting ..."

The resolution is not binding, achieving only a simple majority of 33 votes to 32, with one abstention (the IWC constitution requires a three-quarters majority for a vote to be binding). However, the win is significant, as it is the first vote pro-whaling nations have won in 20 years.

The 1982 moratorium on commercial whaling, which came into effect in 1986, was a result of a high-profile environmental campaign during the 1960s and '70s that highlighted the dramatic decline in the numbers of whales due to large-scale commercial whaling. During the 19th century, whales were hunted for the oil that could be extracted from their blubber, which was used for heating and lighting. Although technological advances rendered whale oil redundant, whaling for meat continued on a large scale.

By the time of the moratorium, some whale species had been reduced to 10% of their natural population. Twenty years later, many species still have not recovered or are have made only limited recoveries.

According to a June 19 British Independent report, the Humpback Whale population has only increased to 35,000 today, up from 20,000 in 1966. The Blue Whale, which once numbered 250,000-300,000, today still numbers only 2000-5000. World Conservation Union statistics list 20 out of 26 species of whales in the categories of critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable or conservation dependent.

Whaling nations' diplomatic victory at the IWC is a product of a long-term Japanese campaign against the moratorium. Japan has the support of Iceland, which also conducts whale hunting. (Norway, another whaling nation, opted out of the IWC when the moratorium was declared.)

When the moratorium was introduced, Japan initially intended to opt out of the IWC, but it was held back by the threat of US sanctions.

Through bribes and bullying, Japan has managed to slowly whittle away at the anti-whaling majority on the IWC. Japan has a history of encouraging Third World nations that have no history of whaling to join the IWC and vote for pro-whaling policies in return for aid money.

A June 25 article in the British Sunday Herald reported that "Japan admits donating £2.9 million in 'marine aid' to St Kitts and Nevis, this year's conference host. Another £5.6m went to Nicaragua . These new IWC members have no whaling history but they do have a coast; landlocked Mongolia and Mali also joined after receiving Japanese aid and voted accordingly." According to the New Zealand Herald, the 20 newest members of the IWC are landlocked and/or have no history of whaling.

A June 20 report by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society claimed that Togo's representative to the IWC "arrived two days late for the meeting to pay their membership fees. The money was in a brown paper bag — $13,000 in Japanese Yen. Togo and Japan both insist that Togo's decision to join the IWC and to vote for Japan's pro-whaling initiatives are independent positions by Togo without influence from Japan."

Since the moratorium was declared, Japan has continued to hunt whales under the widely discredited guise of "scientific research", killing 910 whales in 2005.

From Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2006.
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