Whaling: the international situation

Is it time for a wake-up call?

Feature story - February 11, 2007
We are here amongst the icebergs of the Southern Ocean, preparing to take direct action to save whales from deadly harpoons in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. But is the momentum that created the Sanctuary now slipping away? Does the world need a wake-up call? Karli Thomas, on board the Esperanza, ponders the state of the moratorium on commerical whaling.

Southern Ocean whaling expedition leader Karli Thomas from New Zealand aboard the Esperanza in Auckland, New Zealand before departing.

Almost every single person on this ship comes from a country that says they are opposed to whaling. But saying you are opposed to whaling, and then doing something about it are two different things; there is a whole spectrum of action and inaction that lies between. So, while we are here amongst the icebergs of the Southern Ocean, preparing to take direct action to save whales from Japanese Government's whaling fleet's deadly harpoons... what is going on in the rest of the world?

The changing face of the IWC

From one International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting to the next, the Japanese government works away at recruiting new countries to vote pro-whaling... However, although the IWC started life as an organisation that represented fifteen whaling nations in the divvying up of the oceans' whales and tried to keep things from getting too far out of hand - the IWC has now changed. Over time, nations that wanted to see whales protected began joining, giving strength and a voice for the whales. Those years saw the introduction of the moratorium on commercial whaling and the establishment of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. But is that momentum now slipping away, and the majority eroding?

St Kitts and Nevis

Last year, the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis gave everyone a wake-up call. The year before they were to host the IWC, the government received hundreds of millions of yen from Japan for fisheries development. Six hundred and seventeen million to be exact. Come meeting time, they refused entry to the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise, and arrested Greenpeace activists during a peaceful protest in which they were erecting 945 whale tails on a beach, symbolising the whales due to be killed in the upcoming hunt. At the meeting itself, pro-whaling countries attempted to abolish the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Although established twelve years earlier with only a single vote (Japan) against it, the Sanctuary now retained only a slim majority: 33 votes to 28.

Wake-up call

Perhaps that was just the wake up call that was needed. Since then, Croatia and Slovenia, both pro-conservation countries, have joined the IWC. There is hope for others to finalise their membership, in time to shore up support for the whales at the Anchorage meeting in May. Other countries with debts to the organisation - it's not cheap to belong ­ have lost their right to vote. Peru, Kenya and Costa Rica, which have all supported whales in the past, have lost their votes in this way. And then, there are those countries where the government simply - for whatever reason - votes against the wishes of their people. Denmark and Nicaragua both vote with the Japanese government, though at home their public are supportive of whale conservation.

A 2006 poll done by WWF in 10 poor developing countries, recruited by the Japanese Government to vote with it at the IWC, found that in nine out of ten of these countries, more people thought that their country should vote against commercial whaling than favoured a vote for it. In one Caribbean country which is a particularly vocal supporter of Japan, 79 percent of the population opposed whaling and only 14 percent supported it. In seven of these countries, people were not even aware that their country was a member of the IWC.

Is your government taking action?

As May draws closer, and the next meeting of the IWC looms, we need to do all we can to protect whales, not just from the immediate danger of explosive harpoons, but from the longer-term threat of their protection being gradually eroded. That's why the expedition to the Southern Ocean is just one part of what we are doing. Each member of our crew knows that whatever we do here will be in vain if our countries aren't working at a political level to ensure they have the support they need at the IWC. And all those campaigners and activists out there (you all!) - in countries that are on the brink of joining the IWC, countries that need to pay off their debts, countries whose governments are not representing their own people with their IWC votes, or are not doing enough to support the whales - can join this effort.

Take Action!

Join the IGO community to help save the whales

Talk to the crew

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