At international meeting: Whales 5, Whalers 1

Feature story - 18 June, 2006
In a stunning turn about from expectations, pro-whaling nations have narrowly lost all four key votes so far at this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting. But they have won an ominous "St Kitts Declaration" vote. Here's the play by play...

The Yushin Maru catcher ship of the Japanese whaling fleet injures a whale with its first harpoon attempt, and takes a further three harpoon shots before finally killing the badly injured fleeing whale. Finally they drowned the mammal beneath the harpooon deck of the ship to kill it.

Vote 1:  On the opening day of the meeting, Japan moved to have any reference for a discussion on conservation of small cetaceans (dolphins and porpoises) to be struck from the agenda.   This vote had been expected by many to demonstrate that pro-whaling nations had a majority.  Instead they were defeated 32 votes to 30.

UPDATE2:  Much of our team in St Kitts has been arrested during a peaceful protest.

UPDATE 1: But we lost this one...

By a vote of 33 to 32 with one abstention, the IWC adopted on Sunday something called "The St. Kitts Declaration" which lays out the whaler's case for a return to whaling, and declares a commitment to "normalize" the functions of the IWC.  Aside from, de facto, declaring a commitment to end the moratorium on commercial whaling, its most significant implication is that it will be used to say that the IWC has accepted that the consumption of fish by whales means that the resumption of whaling is a matter of food security for coastal nations.  We say the idea of whales being responsible for fisheries depletion is the equivalent of blaming woodpeckers for deforestation.

Vote 2: Japan's call for secret ballots was defeated by 33 votes to 30.  Transparency and openness at the IWC was narrowly preserved. 

Vote 3:  The third vote was on Japan's request for an exemption to the moratorium on commercial whaling - so they could hunt 150 minke whales and 150 Brydes whales in their own territorial waters.  

This year they came closer than ever before to achieving a majority on such a vote, which they have pushed every year for the last two decades.  This year they lost 31 against, 30 in favour - with four abstentions.

Vote 4:  A resolution vote to end the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.  Japan lost this one 33 to 28.

Vote 5:  A Resolution on the safety of vessels engaged in whaling and whale research-related activities. Vote adopted by consensus with a reservation by St Kitts and Nevis.

In what amounted to a international diplomatic version of a group hug, pro and anti whaling nations found common ground near the end of this IWC meeting, by adopting a resolution endorsing the right to protest on the high seas while asking everyone to, "keep it safe out there".

The second paragraph says "Whereas the Commission and Contracting Governments support the right to legitimate and peaceful forms of protest and demonstration" … so the IWC, which includes Japan, supports the right to peaceful protest. Not a bad result for an agenda item originally designed to throw us out! Needless to say, we are happy to be able to continue our work inside the IWC - to support our work outside of it.

But despite these knife edged victories, all is not well for the whales.  The conference still has two more days to go.  And this winter, the Japanese whaling fleet will return to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, where under a self allotted quota they will takeup to 935 minke whales and ten endangered fin whales.  

In response, we have pledged our own return to the Sanctuary - to once again put ourselves between whale and harpoon, and continue to use all peaceful means to protect the whales.