Commercial whaling ban strengthened at Anchorage whaling meeting

Feature story - May 31, 2007
Following last year's "St. Kitts Declaration", which mumbled that the moratorium on commercial whaling might not be necessary anymore, the anti-whaling countries have bounced back with a 37-4 vote for a resolution strengthening the commercial whaling ban.

Despite the continued killing of whales there was some good news when the International Whaling Commission endorsed the commercial whaling ban.

You can read the full text of the "CITES Resolution" here.

This was a major victory for the voices of whale conservation worldwide.

At last year's meeting, 33 countries - led by pro-whaling Japan - voted in favour of the " St. Kitts Declaration," essentially an attempt to restart commercial whaling, which has been banned since 1986.

Thattemporary, one-vote whaling majority was a wake up call, and as Japancontinued to recruit votes in support of their position, often withlucrative aid packages, Greenpeace and other conservationorganisations, like-minded countries, and whale supporters all over theworld responded with their own efforts to ensure that the trueopposition to whaling worldwide was reflected at this year'smeeting. 

We launched a website dedicated to enabling those who opposed whaling to be part of those efforts: I-GO/Defending the whales. Whale defenders who signed up at that site helped to motivatecountries around the world to protect the whales. Recentmonths saw several countries joining or rejoining, like Peru,Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Costa Rica and Ecuador - or even declaring they would swapsides to vote for the whales, like Nicaragua.

In addition, there were Big Blue Marches all over the world in support of whales - in New Zealand andAustralia, India, Argentina, Ecuador, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, US,UK, France, Portugal, Columbia, Venezuela, Germany, Brazil, Mexico,Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, Morocco, Romania, Sweden, Singapore, Turkey -the list goes on and on!

And in Japan, the Whale Love Wagonreached out to the Japanese public in a very different voice, exploringthe whaling issue from the perspective of former whalers, peoplewho still eat whale meat, and Japanese youth. The latest instalment,an animation from academy-award nominee Koshi Yamamura, tells the storyof a Japanese headmaster who saves a whale, repaying a debt he feelsfor the days when whales saved the Japanese people from starvationfollowing World War II. "Once they saved us -- now it is our turn tosave them" he says in this tiny, beautiful story.

What we didn't win

Yetwhile we achieved the major objective of maintaining the moratorium,the meeting was not entirely a success. The functional extinction of anentire species, the Baiji dolphin, - got just fifteen minutes of fame at the meeting, at the Anchorage's Captain Cook Hotel, which has just drawn to a close.

The Vaquita,the Mexican dolphin likely to become extinct in the near future, alsogarnered little mention. And there was no discussion whatsoever aboutthe estimated 3,288 cetaceans that have died as bycatch from fishingvessels worldwide since the 59th IWC meeting started four days ago, orthrough human causes like ship strikes, pollution, bycatch and climatechange.

Instead, a huge chunk of meeting was spent arguing overthe resumption of commercial whaling, with Japan's JARPA II "scientificwhaling" hunt later this year drawing censure from most countries.Japan aims to kill 50 threatened humpback whales in the Southern Oceanlater this year, and the "Resolution on Jarpa" with 40 countries voting against Japan's "research" expeditions - which are really just commercial whaling in disguise.

Japanalso proposed a resolution that its coastal whaling communities shouldbe allowed to engage in commercial whaling, because of its similarityto subsistence hunts by indigenous people in other countries. Theproblem is, for the last decade, the UN has repeatedly, andunsuccessfully, requested Japan's government to recognise the rights ofJapan's own indigenous people - the Ainu- in the north of Japan, so it's hard to see how they can claim empathywith indigenous people elsewhere. Japan eventually withdrew theproposal.

Sore losers

Japan routinely threatens to leave the IWC every year that itdoesn't go well for them, and this year was no exception. This yearthey said they want to start another whaling organisation, and to startcoastal whaling.

Jun Hoshikawa, executive director of Greenpeace Japan said that this was just posturing by Japan.

"Japancan't just walk away - whaling isn't such a big business in Japan thatother important international relationships can be compromised".

Themeeting, IWC 59, kicked off on Monday with Japan requesting everyone toact "civilly." That sentiment didn't go too far - there was soon a waveof so-called "hate votes" - the refusal of pro-whaling countries toparticipate in votes they didn't like the look of; threats to walk awayfrom the whole process from Japan, and an almost total failure of allmembers to consider in detail the real threats to whales and dolphins.

Finally,the IWC's member nations have agreed to a special meeting to discussreform of the organisation. But unless "reform" means actuallymodernising the IWC to properly address the major threats to cetaceans- which kill one animal every 90 seconds - and stop the mostpreventable cause - hunting - then that meeting will just becomeanother soapbox for political grandstanding, where the only victimswill be the whales.