Into the dense machinations of the Scientific Committee
So where were we….
Ah yes, lunch on day one of IWC 63, in St Helier in Jersey.
So lunch was occupied by a presentation on welfare and some nice sandwiches, both kindly provided by WSPA. The presentation by Professor Donald Bloom was entitled ‘The Science of Animal Welfare and its Relevance to Whales and the IWC’.
We return to the increasingly hot and windowless hall to hear the Chair of the Scientific Committee talking about southern right whales. Apparently they have their own catalogue.
There are no comments from the floor and the Commission Chairman notes that he is being slow as there seems to be a slow response from his new buttons!
The alternate commissioner for Argentina thanks Jersey for hosting the Commission and the Scientific Committee for its hard work. He notes a new conservation plan for these animals. These conservation plans are a new initiative for the Commission and the right whale plan is the very first of what may be many to follows. There are less than 15 mature individuals in the southern-Chile population of right whales.
The Scientific Committee chair moves on to give those parts of her report dealing with other whale stocks. The SC has grave concerns over certain small stocks of whales. The Chair of the Conservation Committee notes that the endangered right whales were also discussed in his committee and Chile then goes on to underpin the significance of this population and the need for recovery.
We are now on item 5.7: The North Pacific Research Cruise. Debbie’s microphone has ceased working and so she joins the Chairman and the Executive Secretary on the podium. She explains that the cruise plans were aided by an intersessional workshop. The Scientific Committee is very grateful to Japan for providing a research vessel for this research. The research will have three objectives – sei whale abundance; biopsy sample collection and photo-ID and biopsy sampling, especially from the rarer whales.
Korea encourages the research as does Japan. It is a great pleasure for the latter to contribute to these research activities. They have been providing a research vessel and a crew and some interesting insights have already come from the work, adds the Commissioner, including a helpful estimate for sei whales in the research area.
The Chair tries to move on, but the US delegation is jumping up and down and calling out for his attention. Their microphone is not working. They are swiftly given a hand-held one by an increasingly harassed-looking audio technician. The US now notes that they have a scientist on this cruise and are very much looking forward to sorting out some issues relating to CITES (export) permits with Japan.
We move to the report of the Whale Killing Sub-Committee. This met last week. The Chairman presents this and rattles through all the items considered, including the low success rate of the American Inuit hunt this year.
Also included is consideration of a report of the UK’s recent welfare and ethics workshop. This was obviously contentious as, in the minutes of the meeting is a rather predictable and lengthy criticism from Norway, and a response from the UK.
When the chair opens the discussion, Germany (after the usual compliments) calls on all the whaling nations to report killing data to the IWC – and in particular he calls on Iceland in this regard.
Australia takes the floor for the first time and thanks the States of Jersey and then thanks the Chairman for taking on his role. She also thanks the UK for its whale welfare and ethics workshop and she also thanks WSPA for their work on this. She notes that welfare has been contentious in this forum but she still believes the Commission is the relevant body for the welfare data to be considered. Some other organisations may wish to consider such data but the IWC is the correct place for it she firmly states.
Mexico liked the report and thanks the UK and WSPA. Argentina expressed similar sentiments. Mexico hopes that an ad hoc group might help to clarify some of the concerns raised by Norway.
The UK Minister speaks again. We all agree here he says that welfare needs to be addressed and we have developed terms of reference for an Ad Hoc group to look at this. He refers to a document circulated earlier by the UK. He hopes his intervention does not spark a debate like those seen here previously. He is prepared to agree that welfare is a difficult and divisive issue, but we need to make progress on it….
But here comes Norway; very quietly at first and then building in volume; their welfare expert notes that when he looks at some of the comments written about this body it would appear that whaling is practiced by people who did not care about welfare. This might have been the case in the past but he says Norway has contributed much research and data on this issue and goes on to detail this. He continues that various governments and organisations have misconstrued this information. He continues on this theme for some time and the room slowly warms up further.
Japan agrees with Norway. Iceland agrees with Norway and Japan.
When the attention of the blog scribe drifts back to the room he find the Russian Commissioner noting the expense of the killing methods involved in their hunting.
The UK Commissioner has listened carefully, he says, and the proposed terms of reference for the ad hoc group show flexibility he says in how the group will be taken forward. but he can see there is no consensus. So the UK will seek to take forward the work with countries that spoke in favour of in their proposal.
Intersessionally? says the Chair
Yes, says the UK
The US then starts waving again, as they wish the Chairman of the Eskimo Whaling Commission to present on improvements in their hunt. Eugene Brouwer takes the floor and the lights dim for a power-point presentation.
Some pictures show the rapidly moving ice that the hunters have to traverse. Other images include the skin boats used. Mr Brower emphasises the problems caused by the shifting winds, ice and polar bears that ‘can go anywhere they want to go’.
Moving images show the skin boat launched from they ice aimed towards a passing whale a few metres away. A harpoon is thrown into the whale and in this case the whale died in four seconds. Further images show the whaler giving thanks to god for the kill. Then the community works together, using a pulley and tackle to haul the whale ashore. The whale is butchered and distributed amongst the community via a community potluck
The primary killing instrument is shown (each costs $4,000 and combined with transport this costs over $50,000 year) the secondary killing weapon, which is all brass fires a black powder projectile.
Mr Brouwer stresses that they have great respect for the environment and that ‘the whale is the greatest animal that God ever made’.
A tea break without biscuits breaks out.
We return to find Debbie Palka describing some of the more arcane and difficult aspects of the scientific committee report – issues relating to the mystical Revised Management Procedure or RMP (the IWC’s agreed mechanism to calculate quotas.
Here we find Debbie talking about a wide range of highly technical matters, including what we things she called Whaling Simplification Trials.
Anyway, somewhere along the way, we drift back into consciousness and realise that the lead Norwegian scientist is complaining that the Scientific Committee is not doing what he wants quickly enough. (For those of you who really want to know the details he is complaining that the CLA – further to proposals made by Norway in 2004 – has not been more swiftly amended. He expects next year that the SC will progress this matter.
Western North Pacific Bryde’s whales then pop up – they have apparently been ‘implemented’ and Japan has decided not to provide a new research proposal but new information on stock structure will be forthcoming. We hope that is all clear.
North Atlantic Fin whales follow and suddenly the room goes rather tense. Debbie tells us that Iceland wanted to pursue an RMP ‘variant with research’; good progress was made on the development of the research programme and we received an analyses of research data, implementation simulation trials are pending. With a review in 2014. It seems that all is going well…
But Monaco is concerned that we are not paying enough attention to the scientific catches of Iceland. 120 fin whales were taken in 2009 and more this year. If and when whaling takes place, he says firmly, it should take place under the advice of science. The previous catches were way above the reliable limit of 48 and this is endangering to a stock already considered endangered by IUCN. Have a look at the size of the animals – they are one of the largest whales and they deserve attention … we should advise our friends from Iceland to be precautionary.
Iceland says that is not that clear that the scientific committee has recommended a number. To his knowledge, the SC has never recommended any such number. There were a series of numbers mentioned last year in discussions and 48 might have been the lowest number mentioned then. But NAMMCO work based in that of the IWC, he adds, support us. Our numbers are conservative and support the maximum sustainable yield. Maybe we could have a comment from the Chair of the Scientific Committee.
Nor does he agree that the fin whale is an endangered species. The fin whale has a world-wide distribution. To call it unscientific is quite unscientific. This stock of fin whales is quite healthy and close to pre-exploitation size.
UK (Commissioner): I would just like to support the comments from Monaco.
Chair: Does the Head of Science or the Chair of the Scientific Committee wish to take the floor. Debbie does. Several figures she suggests have been talked about of which 46 is one – and this is given with a tuning level of 0.72. This is the stock structure hypothesis that does not require any research. A higher value come when the stock structure requires research. This is why we are waiting for the research, she adds.
Mexico: Do the levels of take by Iceland not exceed the tuning level of 0.6?
Debbie: A value of 155, which is above what was being caught – under one scenario is safe under another it is not.
New Zealand. The fin whaling by Iceland is highly problematic and has caused enormous concern. We cannot allow the impression to be given that we are comfortable. This is risky behaviour and in our view illegal.
Monaco: my remarks were based on last year’s small group calculation. All takes should be under rigorous advice.
USA: we would like to associate with Monaco, Mexico and New Zealand. Australia agrees.
Iceland: So we are having an interesting debate on the legality of whaling. We note the comments and we have a legal reservation in place and so our whaling is fully legal and we are also conducting our whaling on a scientific basis. There are 20, 000 fin whales in the N Atlantic – we don’t even need to go into details to make the case for it being sustainable. We have compared our fin whaling with the bowhead whaling in Alaska. We support sustainable whaling. The categories aboriginal, commercial or scientific do not matter. All that matters is it is sustainable!
Debbie ploughs on with the trials conducted on the North Pacific minke whales
[There is much activity visible in and around the UK delegation at this time and Vicky is taking care that she does not get trodden on.]
Korea notes that they have enforced a total ban on taking minkes and suggest that the local minkes have recovered. He says we understand that more information is required by the Scientific Committee to reduce uncertainties
UK – On a general point relevant to all discussions under this item, the last written specification of the RMP was published in 1999 – there have been a lot of modifications, and several amendments have been adopted since the last published version. The Scientific Committee agreed that the RMP and its specification should be published in the last supplement [of the IWC journal] but it was not published – please publish in the next journal supplement!
Japan. I would like to acknowledge the tremendous support of our scientists and the whole scientific committee engaged in this process. It is regrettable that there is a delay of one year but this is not because of the lack of effort of scientists. He looks forward to more progress.
Mexico speaks up to agree with the UK and notes it could be published on the website as well as in the journal.
Chile asks for clarification of what the Commission has accepted in terms of a period between surveys and why the scientific committee has changed what is doing.
Chair: Head of Science or Chair of Scientific Committee would you like to reply?
Debbie says you can read it yourself and she has extensively tested it. It did not seem a big deal to extend it as we have already tested it. She calls on Greg Donovan, Head of Science, as Editor of the Journal. He says last year we recommended a number of changes, and he wanted to publish the final version, not the earliest one.
The USA takes the floor and sternly comments that the approaches for the management for subsistence whaling and commercial are different. It is inappropriate to use the SLA [the aboriginal quota calculation mechanism] for commercial whaling. We developed management procedures for each case. For example aboriginal hunters are allowed to take from depleted populations.
Monaco speaks ‘to fully support the statement made by the US’. Mexico agrees, as does Equador.
We are now cooking in the great hall. It may be that the air conditioning has failed but, many delegates are shedding clothing.
The Chairman moves to close the meeting and the Executive Secretary has some house keeping matters. He asks delegates to stop breaking the microphone wiring and notes that Jersey and the Hotel de France will provide a reception in 20 minutes time.
Delegates start to get up – Vicky is up and alert; but Japan suddenly takes the floor again and state that protestors blocked the road to the hotel and were hostile and unpleasant to them. They did not touch us but some of us were harassed very strongly, adds the Commissioner, and some of our delegation could not go out from the hotel. This was a serious incident from our point of view.
The Executive Secretary says that he is sorry to hear this and notes that two members of one organisation were already ejected.
We move carefully out towards the reception.