Greenpeace Opening Statement to IWC 61, Madeira, Portugal

Press release - 21 June, 2009
The island of Madeira is an appropriate setting for the 61st International Whaling Commission meeting, and a model for how the organisation could be transformed.

The island has a long association with whaling; in the 1700s, whaling ships called here for supplies and to hire skilled crew for whaling voyages. Whaling contributed to the island's economy with a catch of over 4,000 sperm whales between 1941 and 1981. In 1981, Portugal agreed that to fully protect whales and dolphins would to come into force in 1986. Madeira voluntarily stopped whaling in 1981, five years before the rest of the country

Madeira now has a fast-growing whale watching industry, which works to ensure that the business does not harm the populations on which it depends, showing once again that a whale is worth much more alive than dead. Most Maideiran whale watching vessels complete sightings sheets, which contribute to expanding scientific knowledge of cetaceans in these waters.

The International Whaling Commission should learn from the change that has taken place in Madeira, by transforming itself from a body that attempts to manage whales for the benefit of the whaling industry, to an organisation that seeks to conserve and protect cetaceans worldwide. We would do well to approach such a transformation with humility, remembering that the IWC has never been successful in managing whales even for the benefit of the whaling industry - its attempts at management were marked by the failure of plans and the depletions of populations and species.

The present dangers are clear. If incidental takes by net entanglement are not sharply reduced or halted, the current take of western grey whales will drive the population to extinction during this century. The survival of the northern right whale remains in the balance, withship strikes and net entanglements preventing population recovery. The Vaquita is critically endangered. Two years ago the Baiji was declared extinct.

Change is needed. The lessons of past failures can no longer be ignored.The Small Working Group process has clearly failed. Rather than risk repeating errors or further delaying the modernisation process, a new way forward must be agreed by the IWC at this meeting. A transparent consultation and decision making process is required to achieve the goal of bringing the International Whaling Commission into line with modern practices of marine conservation, to be finalised no later than the IWC meeting of 2011.

In the interim, and until such an agreement has been finalised, any whaling programme other than the aboriginal/subsistence hunts already sanctioned by the IWC, must be suspended.The IWC must turn all of its efforts to the non-lethal study of whale populations, and to devising and implementing of strategies for the recovery of all whale populations to pre-exploitation levels over the next 100 years.This is not an excessive request. The whaling nations are currently pressing for quotas under the RMP, which operates over the 100-year span. The lifetime of large whales, such as the endangered fin whales being hunted in the Antarctic, is 80-90 years.

The 20th century was a disaster for whales and the IWC oversaw some of the worst excesses of the whaling era. The 21st century offers us a chance to repair the damage done to cetacean populations worldwide. If the IWC can deliver to the citizens of the 22nd century a worldwide population of whales near pristine abundance, then our descendants can decide what form of sustainable use they wish to pursue and the Commission will have entered history as a farsighted body that rose above initial failure to secure the future of the whales.If Madeira can end whaling and replace it with sustainable, non lethal use of whales and an ethos of nature protection for its own sake, then the IWC can do no less.

VVPR info: Greenpeace has experts from Argentina, Australia, Canada, Japan,Netherlands, South Africa and the USA available for interview at the IWC. Languages spoken are English, Spanish, Dutch and Japanese. To arrange interviews contact Jo Kuper, Greenpeace International Communications +31 6 46 16 20 39