In the first of an occasional series of expert commentaries WDCS is pleased to present a pertinent memoir on Norwegian whaling by Dr. Sidney Holt
The current whaling discourse appears to be focused on how to accommodate the self-authorized commercial whaling of Norway,Iceland and the so-called ‘scientific whaling’ of Japan. The not so public debate is centered on what may be conceded to Japan to end its continued use of Article VIII to circumvent the 1982 decision of the IWC for a moratorium on all commercial whaling and appears to include granting it, Norway and Iceland, sanctioned commercial whaling off their own coast in exchange for Japan withdrawing from whaling in the Antarctic.
Many of those officials who are charged by their governments to achieve a negotiated settlement may be acting under either good intentions or bad instructions, but either way neither is enough for them to truly understand the consequences of their current actions.
What is lacking is a historical perspective that very few IWC Commissioners could be expected to have due to their more recent appointments to serve as their national representatives. Some of those who do remember are the very individuals who would like to see such a history forgotten or at least fudged, as a clear understanding of what has happened before is a sure temper to inappropriate action today.
Dr. Sidney Holt is in a unique position to illuminate the darker history of the IWC. He has not only served as advisor to several IWC country delegations but has been a fundamental cornerstone of the IWC Scientific Committee for the last fifty years. His knowledge of the thinking of both the various conservation-led initiatives and of the pro-exploitation strategies that have been played out over the years is second to none.
He will hopefully forgive me for saying that he has also been around long enough so that very few ideas at the IWC are new to him. The current US Government endorsed strategy to deliver coastal whaling for Japan appears to be the same idea that has raised its muddled head in two previous incarnations, but this time it may be even more dangerous -because people have forgotten the lessons of why it failed twice before.
Dr Holt’s timely paper moves our attention from the focus on the intransigence of Japan to remind us of previous attempts to circumvent years of progressive conservation policy at the IWC and into the depths of strategy of various Norwegian delegations.
He traces the critically important years of the mid-1980s when Norway, facing the threat of the moratorium ending commercial whaling, systematically set out to undermine the recommendations o the Scientific Committee, and some of its own scientists, to create a new classification of whaling, and to create a myth that the moratorium decision was not based on science.
The history of trying to control that destructive human activity we call whaling has unfortunately been one mistake after another. Never has there been a truer example of Santayana’s warning that ‘those who forget history are doomed to repeat it’ and Dr Holt’s paper is a timely reminder of how the past can illuminate the machinations of our current elected politicians who would gamble with the lives of whales they have told us they were dedicated to protecting.
You can read Dr. Holt's full paper here and if you are a country that is contemplating voting for a resumption of commercial whaling in whatever guise, let history remind you of the mistake you will be making.
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