Whaling: the international situation

Is it time for a wake-up call?

Feature story - 9 February, 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.

The Japanese Fisheries Agency whaling fleet leaves Shimonoseki, Japan bound for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary with plans to harpoon 935 minke whales and 10 endangered fin whales.

Almost every single person on this ship comes from a country thatsays they are opposed to whaling. But saying you are opposed towhaling, 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, preparingto take direct action to save whales from Japanese Government's whalingfleet'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 votepro-whaling... However, although the IWC started life as anorganisation that represented fifteen whaling nations in the divvyingup of the oceans' whales and tried to keep things from getting too farout of hand - the IWC has now changed. Over time, nations that wantedto see whales protected began joining, giving strength and a voice forthe whales. Those years saw the introduction of the moratorium oncommercial whaling and the establishment of the Southern Ocean WhaleSanctuary. But is that momentum now slipping away, and the majorityeroding?

St Kitts and Nevis

Last year, the IWC meeting at St Kitts and Nevis gave everyone awake-up call. The year before they were to host the IWC, the governmentreceived hundreds of millions of yen from Japan for fisheriesdevelopment. Six hundred and seventeen million to be exact. Comemeeting time, they refused entry to the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise,and arrested Greenpeace activists during a peaceful protest in whichthey were erecting 945 whale tails on a beach, symbolising the whalesdue to be killed in the upcoming hunt. At the meeting itself,pro-whaling countries attempted to abolish the Southern Ocean WhaleSanctuary. Although established twelve years earlier with only a singlevote (Japan) against it, the Sanctuary now retained only a slimmajority: 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 theIWC. There is hope for others to finalise their membership, in time toshore up support for the whales at the Anchorage meeting in May. Othercountries with debts to the organisation - it's not cheap to belong ­have lost their right to vote. Peru, Kenya and Costa Rica, which haveall supported whales in the past, have lost their votes in this way.And then, there are those countries where the government simply - forwhatever reason - votes against the wishes of their people. Denmark andNicaragua both vote with the Japanese government, though at home theirpublic are supportive of whale conservation.

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

Is your government taking action?

As May draws closer, and the next meeting of the IWC looms, we needto do all we can to protect whales, not just from the immediate dangerof explosive harpoons, but from the longer-term threat of theirprotection being gradually eroded. That's why the expedition to theSouthern Ocean is just one part of what we are doing. Each member ofour crew knows that whatever we do here will be in vain if ourcountries aren't working at a political level to ensure they have thesupport they need at the IWC. And all those campaigners and activistsout there (you all!) - in countries that are on the brink of joiningthe IWC, countries that need to pay off their debts, countries whosegovernments 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!

Make sure your government is in Anchorage in May, voting for the whales.

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