What did the whales get at the IWC?

Feature Story - 29 June, 2010
Behind closed doors at the International Whaling Commission (IWC), governments essentially ushered in another year of status quo in which around 2000 whales may die needlessly.Once again, the IWC failed to deliver for whales.

Whale secured alongside the Yushin Maru No.2 catcher ship from the Japanese whaling fleet.

The one real positive was that delegates rejected a proposed compromise deal that would have legitimised, then locked in, another decade of commercial whaling. With the United States supporting the proposal in the lead-up to the IWC, the resumption of commercial whaling loomed ominously on the horizon. Thankfully, the US and New Zealand withdrew their support.

But avoiding the worst-case scenario can hardly be considered a success.

Allegations of bribery and vote-buying

The IWC met this year beneath a dark cloud of scandal. As delegates descended on the Moroccan city of Agadir, media headlines exposed Japan 'buying' countries to vote with them, including the accusation that airfares and accommodation for this meeting's acting chairman were paid for by Japan. Hardly an auspicious start to a crucial international meeting.

Allegations that envelopes of cash, as well as 'financial assistance with string attached', being exchanged for support of the otherwise unpopular whaling industry sparked shock and controversy. But, to those following the desperate death throes of the Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whaling industries, the allegations came as no surprise.

Against this backdrop of corruption and scandal, countries were attempting to reach agreement on the future of the IWC, with the goal of improving the conservation and management of the world's whales.

On the first day, NGOs and the media were expelled so that countries, grouped into pro-conservation blocs, could meet in private with each of the whale-hunting nations. A day-and-a-half of precious time was wasted in discussions that yielded nothing.

So, where are we now?

Countries have agreed to a 'cooling-off period' of one year before negotiations resume. Time is precious for the world's whales. Norway and Iceland will be killing whales in the next few weeks if they aren't already, and the Japanese fleet is now at sea hunting whales in the north Pacific, including endangered sei whales.

So, while we averted a grim outcome for whales, it's business-as-usual as whaling countries go about their hunts.

Greenpeace is opposed to all commercial whaling in all of our oceans. We need countries to take a hard negotiating stance to finally produce an agreement that would save whales, not dying whaling industries. Japan, Iceland and Norway cannot continue to kill whales with impunity.

Fate of the Tokyo Two activists hangs in balance

Junichi Sato was also in Agadir for the IWC. He is one of the two Greenpeace activists currently facing the possibility of 18 months in jail in Japan for exposing embezzlement and corruption that lies at the heart of Japan's whaling program. Along with Toru Suzuki, Junichi is willing to risk his freedom to bring an end to commercial whaling while governments at the IWC seem unwilling to risk very much at all for this change.

Take action: Email the Japanese government calling for an end to whaling in the Southern Ocean and justice for the Tokyo Two

Video: Short documentary on the Tokyo Two