30 Years After Its Passage, the Ban on Commercial Whaling Is Under Attack

by Phil Kline

October 13, 2016

The International Whaling Commission has the chance to protect 10 million square miles of whale habitat next week. Or, it could lift a 30-year moratorium on needlessly cruel commercial whale hunting. Which would you rather see?

Humpback Whales in Gulf of Alaska

© Todd Warshaw / Greenpeace

I didn’t think I’d have to go back to another meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

After the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in 2014 that the Antarctic whaling that Japan claimed is scientific was really not for scientific purposes, and ordered them to stop it, it seemed like the last sad chapter of the story of commercial whaling was coming to a close. And when a proposal by Latin American and African countries to make the entire South Atlantic into a whale sanctuary — one that would cover almost 10 million square miles of ocean — came within a few votes of passing at the last meeting, it seemed certain that it would get the three-fourths majority it needs to pass this time around.

That sanctuary would conserve whales, stimulate non-lethal research, and develop non-lethal economic use of whales — like whale watching — for the benefit of coastal communities in the region.

With the creation of a South Atlantic whale sanctuary looking increasingly likely, I went back to working on overfishing, other threats to the oceans, and marine reserves.

But things have started to unravel.

Though Japan took a year off from Antarctic whaling, it used the time to exempt itself from further rulings from the ICJ on the subject and prepare a new whaling program — supposedly for “scientific purposes.” A panel of independent experts appointed by the IWC concluded that Japan had not demonstrated that the program was for scientific purposes, but the country went ahead anyway, sending whaling ships to the Antarctic from late 2015 into this year.

Another review a year later found that Japan had still not demonstrated that the whaling was for scientific purposes, but now Japanese whalers plan to return to the Antarctic in December.

If it were just the government of Japan it would be bad enough, but the Japanese whaling industry has recruited help. Japanese officials have openly talked about a “vote consolidation program” to bring nations to the IWC to vote with them. Reports have described how Japanese officials have paid the membership fees and expenses meeting expenses for other nations in exchange for votes at IWC meetings.

In fact, the South Atlantic whale sanctuary proposal was defeated by votes from outside the region, many from the same countries recruited by Japan in the past ten years to join the IWC and support the country’s agenda to restart commercial whaling.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. But instead of moving forward further protections for whales, the Japanese whaling industry is paving the way for lifting the moratorium.

So, I’m packing my bags for the IWC meeting in Slovenia next week. The IWC started out as a whalers’ club — sharing out quotas for whale hunts — but since the moratorium on commercial whaling, it’s become more and more like a conservation organization. That’s why you, me, and people around the globe need to keep up the work to push the IWC forward into conservation, not backward into whaling.

Take action today. Tell the International Whaling Commission to protect whales — not endanger them — by creating a sanctuary in the South Atlantic Ocean and upholding the 30-year ban on commercial whaling.

Phil Kline

By Phil Kline

Phil is a senior oceans campaigner at Greenpeace USA. He is a recognized expert on oceans policy domestically and internationally, and has represented Greenpeace U.S. at International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings and Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meetings around the globe.

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