Obama Administration Keeps Promise on Whale Conservation at International Talks

by Philip Radford

June 25, 2010

You would be hard pressed to find a director of an environmental group who is more critical than yours truly regarding the gap between President Obama’s visionary campaign messages and his actual leadership on environmental issues.

But I must say that I was impressed when I heard the U.S. government’s position against commercial whaling and any trade of whale products at the International Whaling Commission. While the nations that gathered failed to come to an agreement that could help save whales – largely because countries like Japan refuse to stop slaughtering whales – the President and his team stood their ground in the end.

While campaigning for president, Obama promised Greenpeace that under his leadership, the United States would work to strengthen the international moratorium on commercial whaling. He declared that “allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.”

That promise came under question this year when we received confirmation that the President was supporting a proposal that would have lifted the 24-year ban on commercial whaling. In response, 1.5 million people signed petitions urging the White House to stand up for whales and President Obama, to his credit, listened.  The US statement at the IWC meeting reaffirmed the government’s support for whale conservation:
"First and foremost, the United States continues to support the commercial whaling moratorium. We strongly oppose lethal scientific whaling – we strongly believe it unnecessary for modern whale conservation and management. In particular, the United States is concerned by whaling in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, and by the increased international trade and black market trade in whale meat and whale products."

This year, the best we could do was keep the IWC from rolling back protections for whales. Next year, the IWC needs to get serious and close the loopholes that have allowed Japan, Iceland, and Norway to flaunt the moratorium and keep slaughtering whales. As I write this, four Japanese whaling ships are currently navigating the Northwestern Pacific, planning to kill 260 whales by the end of August.

For over thirty years, Greenpeace has been the most outspoken opponent of commercial whaling, taking action to stop the harpooners in their home countries, at sea and in the political arena of IWC meetings and our commitment to bringing about its end in all of our oceans remains. Hopefully by this time next year, we’ll be in a position to get the IWC to actually do something positive, instead of having to work like mad just to keep them from moving backwards. Today, the United States stayed true to Obama’s promise to Americans. Today, I feel that hope about the President and our chances to stop whaling that so many felt when President Obama first called on America to share his hope for a better for our children and grandchildren.

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