How many humpbacks need to die?
So, one last time, along the red brick promenade, today under a sullen sky. It is so early that there are only a few joggers in motion and the birds are still singing loudly. Into the Great Hall – one last time - we go.
We are so early here that with the exception of a few Japanese press people, we are alone. The small WDCS media team crank up their printer and soon invitations to a briefing on the Greenland hunt are being distributed. This will be held in the press tent in the coffee break. Slowly the room fills up.
The EU nations, as usual, are somewhere behind closed doors conferring but soon many delegates are also conferring around the hall in small knots (probably wrapped up in the trailing power cables). They are probably awaiting news from the EU. The US Commissioner is missing today having flown home.
In the pigeon holes the only new document is a Statement from the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, it laments the failure to come to consensus and concludes ‘Japan sincerely expects that all concerned Parties will continue to make every effort to achieve a consensus decision following the approach presented in the Chair and Vice-Chairs proposal’.
The Acting Chair opens by reminding us that agenda 3 is still open and also ‘whale killing methods’, item 9 on socio-economic implications; and aboriginal subsistence catch limits. He starts with the ongoing report from the Conservation Committee. We hear about the serious threat posed by ship strikes, something that the scientific committee also works on. Many issues are covered here including actions by the US to avoid ship strikes on whales and a working group led very ably by Belgium.
The distinguished Alternate Commissioner from Argentina thanks the contributors and particularly Alexander from Belgium for his work. France is also enthusiastic about the workshop and makes note of the excellent work done on this under the auspices of ACCOBAMS too.
Others also speak up in favour of this work area and to thank Alexander.
Stinky gray whales also pass by again.
Southern Right whales in Chile and Peru – which are endangered - are highlighted and Chile asks that this matter remain on the agenda of the conservation committee. Only 20 member nations attended the Conservation Committee. The US has called for greater cooperation in this matter.
We move swiftly to catches by non-member nations. But no one has anything to report. So we move to agenda….3…. no 5.3, which Norway asked to hold open. The Norwegian welfare specialist is brought to the microphone, he says that he will comment on something that NOAH the Norwegian animal welfare group said yesterday. He refers to a film that he says ‘pretends’ to show an inhumane hunt where the whale may have suffered from wounds for more than 2 hours. He continues that the film was shown here but that the members the Norwegian delegation did not have the honour to be invited to the viewing. The film shows a fishing boat and a harpoon with grenade is fired. The harpoon does not hit the whale. The whale dies… no sorry the whale dives. The scene is disrupted and the boat is then seen sailing away. The next scene shows the same vessel and it is a hunting situation again. The detonation kills the whale instantaneously. The commentator on the film says this is two hours later. The last scene shows flensing. He then tells us that another boat is then featured. Filming is done from the shore he says and he continues to critique the footage at length…. He concludes that he hopes that the Norwegian animal welfare groups will behave in a respectful way. In the 23 years I have been coming here he says he has never heard a story like this.
Japan says it has not had an opportunity to make a statement on other comments made by NGOs so he takes the stage now. NGOs have been told to make positive statements. Giving the floor to the NGOs we have no objection but they must conform to the rules.
Agenda 16 – Other Scientific Committee activities and actions.
So we turn to the Chair of the Scientific Committee, Dr Debbie Palka. Small cetaceans are mentioned now. The Subcommittee looked at small cetaceans in North Africa; there are various concerns, especially for the Atlantic humpback dolphin which is endemic to this region. We also note that there will be a climate change and small cetaceans workshop in the coming intersessional (something to look forward to).
We move on to other issues, including the recommendations made previously by the Scientific Committee on endangered cetaceans such as the vaquita. Sweden has increasing problems with bycatch he says and talks about seal and harbour porpoise bycatch in the Baltic Sea in particular. A coffee break is declared and a WDCS briefing on Greenland occurs in a tent in a car park. A few delegates attend and some press. WSPA calls an impromptu press briefing at the same time in the coffee area (having learn how to do this from the Pew Foundation a couple of days ago) and Siri Martensen who spoke for NOAH yesterday can be seen debating live with a Norwegian Scientist in front of the cameras. There seems to be no agreement.
The coffee break stretches on and on – when it resumes, we are back with Dr Debbie and we look at harbour porpoises including the recently isolated Iberian population of porpoises. Sweden is very concerned about the bycatch of porpoises and they have observers and porpoises. Then we look at the threatened franciscana (a dolphin species). Argentina and Brazil appreciate the work on the scientific committee.
We move to Narwhals and Scientific Committee is looking forward to a joint workshop with NAMMCO. [More romance is in the air.]
Cambodia’s population of Irrawaddy dolphin needs some urgent action to help it, says Dr Debbie. India then speaks up for its rare Gangetic river dolphins which have now become a national animal. Brazil appreciates the work of the scientific committee and is worried about the bycatch of the franciscana in Brazil and they are trying to improve this situation. Back to Indigenous whaling quotas.
The Humpback Question
Spain speaks up on the behalf of the member nations of the EU – they have full respect for the aboriginal people’s rights, and believe that takes much be sustainable. The aboriginal takes should also be subject to review by the IWC and the Scientific Committee.
She asks, on the behalf of the EU member nations, for the following amendment: Catch quotas should be 10 fin whales for 2010, 2011, 2012 and for humpback whales should be 9 in 2010, 11 and 12.
Denmark says that an agreement has been reached on substance with the EU, there remains ‘one small matter of presentation’ and he needs a few minutes to fix this. He asks for a five minute break.
Long minutes pass and he then comes back with some changes to the proposal: The word 'take' is changed to 'struck' in one place and the West Greenland fin whale take is reduced from 19 to 16 with a footnote that says they voluntarily reduce this take from 16 to 10. How will the rest of the commission receive this?
Spain now wishes to speak to Denmark for a few minutes to verify the wording. You may says the acting chair. European commissioners are running around (possibly to escape further 'co-ordination'). The Denmark says the EU did not like half a sentence and he has agreed it. He reads the change... ‘In IWC in Agadir... Denmark and Greenland agreed to voluntarily reduce further the catch limit... from 16 to10... then as before, he says. Spain is satisfied and thanks Greenland for its flexibility. There is an outbreak of applause...
The Vice Chair puts it to the body for acceptance by consensus.
But Costa Rica takes the floor: our country expresses its deep concern about the lack of an analysis by the Scientific Committee - she is also concerned about the status of stocks and poorly managed coastal whaling. We should be very cautious about this... we said previously that there should not be unilateral decisions made by countries. The humpbacks in the Caribbean are important to us - for whale watching - whilst the scientific committee might not affect the stock, it may affect whale watching; we have previously asked for technical advice from Greenland and this has not been forthcoming; as a sign of good will we ask that Greenland make their request without humpback whales.
Australia supports aboriginal subsistence whaling but only within some constraints - it needs to fit the criteria for aboriginal hunts; it must not threaten the hunt. The current proposal raises concerns, including the threats to other nations' interests. We cannot support an expansion. Switzerland recognises the collective rights of indigenous peoples and the right to the enforcement of treaties. He mentions the relevant UN conventions. Catch quotas have been given to indigenous peoples in the past and this should not continue. The Scientific Committee has said that up to 10 humpbacks will not harm the stock. We strongly support the proposal. He concludes by asking for action on welfare.
Brazil associates with Australia.
Iceland supports sustainable whaling and Greenland.
St Lucia is disappointed with the Commission... we don't support science and the scientific committee, and people were not listening, so I will quote [and she does]. Greenland is covered in ice; they can't grow food.. if we called whales chickens we might give them a quota. She gains some applause.
Argentina says she needs to be very clear. We do not oppose aboriginal quotas. We have a problem with this proposal. The additional quota (with or without additions) - has problems with conversion factors (we would have liked more consideration of this); the needs statement is old. The efficiency of the hunt is also problematic and we would like more information. This stock breeds elsewhere. The range states have not been consulted. We support Costa Rica. More applause.
St Vincent and the Grenadines is convinced that the needs presented are fully justified and the scientific committee says this is sustainable and will not harm the stock. There is unequivocal support here for aboriginal whaling. Please support as amended. Hesitant applause. A long list of speakers is read out.
Japan says that we have been spending much time on the future process ... we must nurture this process but the discussion about Greenland places a dark cloud over this. This is exactly what we like to avoid... there was mention of whale watching. There are 10,000 northern humpbacks. Some of the countries opposing this have a bycatch of 20 or more, they are being inconsistent. I don't see any logical reason to oppose this proposal. Similar sentiments follow - either supporting or opposing the proposal from Greenland and the European Union.
Russia suggests we should spend less money on the scientific committee. There is little chance for a consensus... for a future for the IWC. A consensus should be a principle for aboriginal whaling. I would like to give the floor to a representative from indigenous community whaling in the far East. He is angry and amongst things he says the whale is not a human being and he says that fear has been generated amongst the aboriginal people... a guilty mind is never at ease. A few other countries follow -
The only ground that Tanzania has to stand on is science, he says.
The USA regrets there is not consensus support and asks countries not to block a consensus decision. He repeats the adice of the Scientific Committee and the COMMENDS the EU for their flexibility.
Monaco calls for cool heads; there are some legitimate questions to ask. We have always supported aboriginal/indigenous requests and we have procedures to set quotas. The proposed strike limits must not harm the stocks. The Scientific Committee says a take of ten will not harm the stock. But there is also the proper foundation of nutritional needs and here would could have a debate.. not as long one. Is this really subsistence whaling. This population is not exactly starving; they have one of the highest per-capita incomes anywhere in the world [and he provides some figures]. The needs statement is nearly 20 years old and we have many questions; I encourage Denmark to withdraw the last line of their table to make us all more comfortable. I do not think that the loss of ten humpbacks will harm their population. This looks to me more like a totemic issue. Monaco is not enthusiastic to support this and we urge them to withdraw.
A little later Brazil asks for a ten minute break and the stone stairways down to the rather public toilets have never been busier. A rather public co-ordination of the EU occurs against one wall of the great hall. Such a thing has rarely been viewd in public. Many stare and take pictures.
After the break it becomes apparent that there is no will to break the consensus on the Danish proposal. Some countries ask that the debate is carefully recorded in the report from the meeting but it seems that this is all they can do.
So it is that the humpback whaling – a commercialised hunt at that – resumes in the North Atlantic.
Some may seek compensation in the fact that the actual number of whales being taken will not increase. But some of the fin whales are really ‘paper whales’ – they are big and awkward to manage. The Greenlanders probably don’t want them. The humpbacks are far more tasty!