So where were we?
Ah yes, talking about the location of IWC 61. So, whilst many pre-meetings are happening and the credentials (and fees) of many delegate are being checked (or counted), let's start with a little look around. Madeira is an autonomus part of Portugal (complete with its own government and president) and is quite some way from anywhere else sitting in the middle of the ocean (about 360 miles (580 km) from the coast of Africa, 535 miles (861 km) from Lisbon, 230 miles (370 km) from Gran Canaria, and 480 miles (770 km) from the Azores). (We may ask questions about this later, so please commit to memory.)
Its origins are volcanic and it is mountainous; indeed perhaps the most distinctive feature of the island is that it consists of many steep slopes, dramatic cliffs and awe inspiring cliffs. There are some 250,000 inhabitants and many many more tourists (mainly British but some Germans and other nationalities too) and this is a place where tourism is the most important activity.
Here in the island capital Funchal (where almost half of the islanders live), the IWC will shortly open its doors to allow the media (and you) to witness the 61st annual meeting of the whaling commission. Some of us have already been here for sometime and know at least one small part of the island quite well.
Funchal is a big modern city. Despite the fact that we are in the middle of the ocean, European money has been pumped in here to build bridges over ravines and punch tunnels though the volcanic rock to supply the capital with fast moving roads and link up towns and villages as they have never been linked before. The airport too is relatively new; opened in 1958 in stands on stilts over the sea, giving the incoming visitor the impression that their plane may shortly become a submarine.
The meeting venue for IWC61 is probably one of the more ‘interesting’ that we have experienced in recent years. The main meetings are being hosted in a conical or volcano shaped building which is in fact a casino and part of the Pestana Casino Hotel on the western edge of Funchal.
On the ground floor of this conical building is the casino itself, now mainly dominated by some 200 slot-machines; immediately above this is the vast hall that will hold the Commission meeting (more of this remarkable space later) and, above that, some offices (presently occupied by the IWC Secretariat). And in the top, the crowing glory of the volcano is a night club shrouded behind windows where the curtains are seemingly always drawn. All of which means, depending on which floor you get out on, you could have quite a different experience.
During the course of the scientific committee (which also gamely met in the volcano), quite a few bewildered and well-lubricated tourists attempted to enter the holy sanctuary of the Committee and had to be repulsed by the Portuguese security guards, who they gamely serenaded in return.
Whether some scientists were lost to the delights to be found above or below the meeting rooms, we could not say.
The Pestana Casino Hotel – which is hosting the 61st IWC meeting is famous. It was designed by the famous Austrian Architect Professor Oscar Niemeyera, a pioneer in the aesthetic use of concrete, and the chap responsible for the shape of
Its curviness is relevant because the Austrian Architect liked a good curve, eschewing straight lines. The volcano casino building is also his. He also seemingly liked psychedelic carpets and has explored the decorative potential of air ducting to a remarkable extent in the big meeting room. It is rumored that this hall was designed as a discotheque and the vast metal funnels protruding from the ducting in the ceiling were designed to suck up the smoky fumes from the revelers within.
Whatever their original purpose, their presence combined with the bizarre irregular shape of the room and its carpet combine to suggest that we are meeting in the set of a 1980s science fiction serial (perhaps Blake’s Seven or even Thunderbirds – indeed for those that know about such things, the volcano building and setting are strangely reminiscent of the Thunderbird’s HQ on fabulous Tracy Island. Unfortunately a high tech rescue effort is unlikely to emerge from this particular island and sweep out to sea to save the whales… but you never know).
If you would like to have a look at Funchal – there are no less than twelve live webcams that you can tune into here.
But not one of these will take you into the IWC meeting as this blog will! So, stay tuned because tomorrow it all kicks off.
So where were we?