Monday, March 3. 2008
In a few days time, the member countries of the IWC will be meeting just outside London in the UK to discuss the future of the IWC. There is a battle between those who would see a future of renewed and legalised whale killing and those who would see a future for whale conservation, and a group of countries and that just want the problems to go away.
This group of countries (and some others I have to tell you) want a compromise that appears to 'make the problem go away'. Their proposals do not end whaling, and some of us think that they will actually open the doors for a lot more whaling in the future.
I am not saying we are getting old, but these things do seem to repeat themselves, especially when countries seem to forget the lessons of the past.
The following letter appeared in the April 1998 edition of the science magazine 'Nature'. I don't have to point out that the arguments are the same all over again. However, for those who missed it the first time around, here is what WDCS said at the time;
Mark Simmonds and Christopher Stroud,Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Alexander House, James St. West, Bath BA1 2BT
Some parties to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) met in Antigua from 3-5 February to consider a plan to end, its supporters suggested, the existing 'stalemate between pro- and anti-whalers. Despite the 'moratorium' on commercial whaling agreed in 1982, Japan still takes whales under the guise of 'scientific research' and Norway continues to hunt using a formal objection to the moratorium. Their combined annual take is over 1,000 minke whales.
The whalers were invited to phase-out their ongoing whaling and agree to an international trade ban. In exchange, they were offered IWC-endorsed quotas in their domestic waters. The rationale for such a compromise has been outlined elsewhere (1,2) but many conservation groups were concerned that the deal would end the moratorium, strongly signaling that commercial whaling was again internationally approved. However, although the issue remains on the agenda for the IWC meeting in May (3) it seems that the whalers themselves have rejected the compromise. Arguments that 'coastal whaling communities' deserved quotas to alleviate hardship were apparently displaced by their desire for widespread whaling and trade, clarifying their motives as purely commercial.
The IWC Scientific Committee is making 'assessment' of whale stocks, leading to theoretical quotas for various species; theory that is already made reality by Norway for North Atlantic whales. Scientific support for sustainable utilisation also influences the Convention in Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). At its last meeting, those in favour of removing existing trade restrictions on minke whales were only narrowly defeated.
However, commercial whaling meets no pressing human need and, however good the modeling, subjects whale populations to unnecessary risk. Baleen whales are long-lived marine predators with relatively low reproductive capacity and which, typically, make long annual migrations. They may be especially vulnerable to environmental perturbations (4).
Furthermore, an emphasis on lethal sustainable use, may of itself help to generate new markets and trade. This is already the case for caimans (5) and now elephants, following the recent CITES decision to resume trade - witnessed by increased in poaching (6 Similarly, several Caribbean states announced in Antigua their wish to start whaling and, on February 26th, three humpback whales were harpooned by 'aboriginal' whalers of Bequia, Grenadines. (The calf was struck first and used alive to lure its mother; whilst the third animal, a male escort, was struck and lost).
Suzuki recently commented 'how can we be so arrogant as to assume that we can manage the likes of wild fish, whole communities of organisms... or atmospheric layers, I ....suggest that we temper our enthusiasm with some humility about how far we have come' (7).
We call for the establishment of a global whale sanctuary - to protect whales from direct takes in all maritime waters - and seek the support of the scientific community in this endeavor.
1. Gambell, R. in Whales, seals, fish and man (eds. Blix, A. S., Walløe, L. and Ulltang, ?.) 699-708 (Elsevier Science B.V. 1995).
2. Knauss, J. A. Ocean Development & International Law 28: 79-87 (1997)
3. IWC press release: IWC Chairman's Consultation with Commissioners - Antigua, 3-5 February 1998.
4. Simmonds, M. P. & Hutchinson, J. D. The Conservation of Whales and Dolphins - Science & Practice (Wiley, Chicester, 1996).
5. Brazaitis, P., Watanabe, M. E. & Amato, G. Scientific American 278(3):70-76 (1998)
6. Anon. BBC Wildlife 15(10): 23 (1997)
7. Suzuki, D. The Ecologist 28(1): 7 (1998)