The Opening Session – Welcome from the ‘hostile’ people of Jersey.
And who is ‘Flex’?
One of the big pending issues here has been who will actually Chair the Commission meeting. The Chair of last year’s meeting and the Vice Chair are both unavailable. So who do we see heading for the raised podium at the front of the room this fine morning?
Delegates start to settle in their chairs and, finally, cutting through the milling throng comes a small procession led by Simon Brockington, the Secretary of the Commission. He is leading a beaming Herman Osterhausen, the South African Commissioner, who has been asked, he reveals once seated in front of his microphone, by yesterday’s day-long, closed-door Commissioners’ meeting to chair the Commission.
He takes his seat next to Simon and introduces, Alan Maclean, Senator of Jersey. On the behalf of the States of Jersey, the Senator is delighted to welcome us. He gives a brief overview of the island’s interesting constitution. We are we not part of the United Kingdom, he stresses, and explains that in 1066 the Channel Islands were part of Normandy. Later, King John lost Normandy but the Islands stayed loyal to the king and in return for this, successive English kings allowed self government of the islands. Hence Jersey and the surrounding small islands have had their own legislature since 1650; 800 years of autonomy under the English Crown! Mr Maclean stresses that Jersey is not a colony but a crown dependency.
He is also notes that Jersey is considerably larger at low tide than high (there is gentle laughter in response to this comment) with a 12 meter spring tidal range. He tells the Commission that tourism and commerce are important to the island and goes into a little more detail.
Chairman Herman then moves to the issue of opening statements and new members of the Commission, of which there is one and the new Commissioner for Colombia, flanked by her excellent scientist speaks of her country’s support for the non-lethal use of cetaceans and commitment to strengthening the national conservation policy. Colombia hopes that the IWC will maintain its moratorium on commercial whaling and noted the importance of whale watching as a source of income to coastal paper. When she concludes there is warm applause from many parts of the hall.
The Executive Secretary reports on credentials. Some countries evidentally do not have the correct documents in play yet and the credentials subcommittee will meet this evening to review this. There is a significant list of counties that have their voting rights currently suspended because of non-payment. Dr Brockington then advises us on which country, in the event of a vote, would be called on to vote first. This turns out to be rather amusing as he explains that one country after another is either not here or not paid up. He goes through a surprisingly long list until he comes to South Africa who will start the vote. IWC Chairman Herman, smiles and pleads “no votes”.
The Chairman now explains that he will give NGOs the right to speak on some agenda items and he asks to meet later with representatives from two sides, which he describes as the conservation groups and the sustainable use groups.
Simon Brockington now explains that there is new technology in play in this Commission meeting – Commissioners no longer need to wave their flags to attract his attention (we shall miss this little ceremony), and instead by simply pressing a button he will be able to see a list of those wanting to speak in front of him. The Commissioners do not then need to again press that button but await their turn and their microphones will automatically be turned on (and presumably off).
Outside black-shirted protesters are threatening the security of the meeting by playing guitars and singing. They have evidently breached the first ring of security and are in the hotel grounds outside the huge windowless shed housing the commission meeting. They cannot be heard inside the Commission meeting.
We move on to consider the meeting’s agenda.
This is often an interesting debate, as it may help to identify the key issues which typically those that do not like them may try to manoeuvre them to the end of the meeting. The closed Commissioners meeting on Sunday evidently made some agreements on this but…
St Kits and Nevis takes the floor. He is worried about when the credentials of nations may be clarified and also suggests that some countries have been having difficulties getting their visas for travel into Jersey. (The rumours circulating around the Commission are that it is being suggested that some countries have had problems getting visas – although this would be the standard UK visa requirement – for those countries which need such a thing - and which was well advertised by the Secretariat some weeks ago). Any resolutions should be delayed until after Wednesday, the Commissioner for St Kitts and Nevis suggests.
The UK Minister speaks up. The matter is being investigated by the UK’s Foreign Office and no irregularities are apparent at this time. He notes that we have several very important matters to discuss and that we should get on with this. Monaco expresses similar sentiments
The Chairman suggests that we look to the report from the Finance and Administration working group on this (tabled later) and we proceed from there. This seems to be acceptable to all.
The new Chairman is introduced to the new microphone system.
Japan notes the importance of the agenda item ‘Safety at Sea’ to them and that this issue will be looked at on Wednesday. He calls on his Commissioner to make a short statement. The Japanese Commissioner is grateful for the many messages of sympathy and offers of help that Japan has received subsequent to the Japanese earthquake. He noted the devastation wrought on coastal communities and that this makes it even more important to promote sustainable use.
Then, shortly after the Executive Secretary has explained the new microphone system, the meeting is then disrupted by an electric roaring noise. Has the new microphone system been jammed by forces unknown?
The meeting breaks for 15 minutes and harassed technicians move swiftly to identify the problem.
The meeting re-opens and the chairman wishes Japan the best with their rebuilding processes.
We move to whale stocks and the Chair of the Scientific Committee, Debbie Palka, finds her microphone. She points to page 24 of the Scientific Committee report (which as of the opening of the meeting is no longer secret) on Antarctic minke whales. [The issue here is why are the various circum-polar estimates so far apart and whether or not this indicates that there has been a decline. This is an area where Japan hunts them.]
After her report, Mexico thanks Jersey for its hospitality and expresses solidarity with Japan further to the tragedy there. He notes the concern of his government that the estimates of minkes are low in some areas, and this could be a true fall in population numbers.
Japan expressed his gratitude for the balanced and succinct presentation of Dr Palka. He notes that the gap between estimates is very close and he looks forward to a resolution to this. Concerning the substantial decline in some parts, we all need to understand this. The Scientific Committee is still struggling to understand this and why it has occurred in one part of the Southern Ocean. This is as if the population of Tokyo has decreased by 50% over night… but scientists have never seen large scale mortality and during this same time and other species, like humpbacks and fins, have been seen. The equivalent would be seeing many people from outside Japan in Tokyo. [He is perhaps making an allusion to potential competition between whale species – but if he is it is very subtle.] He is ‘very happy’ that data from JARPA 2 (the Japanese lethal research programme) is being used in the calculations. He notes that his research was interrupted by NGOs and that this was a substantial loss of research to this organisation.
The Scientific Committee (SC) report is endorsed and we move on to southern humpback whale stocks.
The USA takes the floor, their Commissioner speaking for the first time thanks the Bailiwick of Jersey for the warm hospitality and the IWC Secretariat for making the arrangements. She has her own Jersey and this one is different! She notes that some of the research was conducted by a US member of the Scientific Committee and that this research showed greater structure and lower recovery than some other populations.
The SC report is endorsed.
Blue whales next hove up. Debbie makes the report on the status of studies into their populations. Chile takes the floor (in Spanish) and thanks Jersey and congratulates the Chair; she notes that the blue whale is emblematic for them and notes the support from the government of Chile for research. He is concerned that this population is smaller than those elsewhere, and this means they need to be carefully monitored. The SC report is endorsed.
Gray whales swim in and Debbie notes this was discussed in the Aboriginal Whaling Subcommittee that met (behind closed doors) last week. So she will be brief on this topic. However, she tells the short story of a13 year old male known as ‘Flex’ who left the Okhotsk Sea and took an unexpected trip (way outside of what might be expected to be its usual migration route) to a location within 20 miles of the Oregon coast where the tag failed. This movement from the Sakhalin (Russian) feeding grounds came as a surprise. Despite this movement and some photo-iD and genetic matches, it is clear, she stresses, that more information is needed to clarify the relationship between the small western gray whales and the far more numberous population on the US Pacific coast.
Debbie stresses the importance of the SC’s research programme into the relationship between these populations and the need for data to come from the oil industry which is very active in the Sakhalin breeding grounds.
Korea takes the floor. Further to the customary expressions of gratitude, he notes that western whalers have reduced the gray whale stock. He also tells the story of Flex
The US also watched Flex’s travels with interest and noted that the USA funded photo-iD work to help this year’s meeting and that they would be conducting further research, including tagging; and support the SC’s recommendations.
Russia thanks the host, the government of Great Britain and the government and citizens of Jersey Islands. The citizens are nice and ‘hostile’ people. There is laughter and an apology – ‘Sorry’ says the interpreter. ‘Very nice people’. More gentle laughter. The Russian commissioner comments that only one specimen was tagged and notes the collaboration involved in this. Twelve western gray whales will be tagged this season and biopsied. They hope that Russian scientists get their Visas in time and he goes on to thank various people and notes that
The Mexican commissioner remains concerned about the status of the western gray whales and the ongoing oil and gas development in key habitat.
UK: excellent committee report. He notes the critically endangered status of gray whales and that industrial activities threaten it and welcomes Russia’s activities in this regard. He notes that small numbers of whales may have other threats along their migratory route and we need to understand this better
Japan: he is grateful for the ‘wonderful’ and excellent presentation on the gray whale and he too is concerned about its status. From 2008 Japan has strengthened its domestic law… and prohibited all forms of take of this species.
We break for lunch and a WSPA hosted event on welfare featuring Professor Donald Broom from the University of Cambridge. Here we find the Norwegian lead scientist clashing again with Siri Martinsen a Norwegian veterinarian.
British Minister Richard Benyon MP