Monday. Part Two.
Southern Hemisphere Humpback Whales
After the long lunch in the long country, we find Arne Bjorge, the Scientific Committee chair reporting on the complex stock structure of the southern hemisphere humpback whales. Many NGOs (Non Governmental Organizations) are glad to be back in the room to have the chance to sit down and rest having either spent the lunch break either running into town to find vegetarian food or whirling around the meeting hotel having lots of swift meetings.
Sir Geoffrey of New Zealand thanks Dr Bjorge and notes the contribution made by his own scientists on this matter. He comments on the genetic distinctiveness of various humpback populations and that whilst some are recovering from previous hunting, others are not. â€˜And we donâ€™t knowâ€™ why.
Australia then tells us about a non-lethal method highlighted in the scientific committee report for aging whales.
Southern Hemisphere Blue Whales.
The Scientific Committee chair next guides us through his committeeâ€™s assessment of the remnant population of the worldâ€™s largest animal in the southern half of the planet. A maximum annual population growth rate of 8.5% has been suggested for them, although he stresses that â€˜more work is neededâ€™ to confirm this.
The most recent estimate of abundance for this heavily hunted species is only 2,280 â€“ incredibly this is still less than 1% of its population size before hunting began.
Australia then highlights not only this small population size but also the threats posed to these animals by climate change.
Costa Rica encourages more research.
Russia refers to the use of 'politicised terms' â€“ something he says that the commission agreed not to do â€“ he refers to language in Annex H (the report of the relevant Working Group of the Scientific Committee). He asks for this to go in the record. [It is not clear at least to this observer what he means.]
Other Small Stocks take the stage.
The SC Chair stresses the small population size of the North Atlantic right whales. Similarly he has little information about North Pacific right whales but the population may be less than 100.
West North Pacific Gray Whales
Some progress in research is noted but 5 whales have been found dead on the coast of Japan in the last year. There is a high risk of extinction by 2050. In January 2008, Japan introduced a new law to help protect this species and was commended by the Scientific Committee for doing so.
The Scientific Committee also called for urgent conservation action and noted the potential disturbance to western grays from oil and gas development near their feeding ground in Sakhalin.
Mexico notes the importance of declaring sanctuaries. He notes the imperiled status of the western gray whale species. He calls for full collaboration between US and Russia.
The distinguished commissioner for the UK also emphasizes concerns about the western gray and makes reference to earlier IWC resolutions about this species. He draws attention to a panel established by the IUCN (the World Conservation Union) to help address this problem â€“ the population is estimated at only 250 individuals and he stresses that all anthropogenic stresses should be removed. The UK believes that the IWC must learn from the extinction of the Baiji [the Chinese River Dolphin] â€“ we must take all practical measure to avoid human induced losses including takes in nets. He too welcomes the new law in Japan.
The US associates itself with the UK and Mexico and Australia does likewise. She adds that this population might have some chance of survival if human impacts are removed. She also comments that Australia will be introducing the concept of conservation management plans to this meeting and that these might provide a helpful framework. [So more of this later!]
Japan says he is firmly committed to the recovery of this species. The relevant law in Japan makes the possession of gray whale illegal; he adds that all other range states should also take measuresâ€¦ there are many anthropogenic activities along the migration route. He refers to his impression of unhelpful competition between groups in the case of the now extinct Baiji and agrees that we should learn from this.
Russia then speaks to comment on his concern about the intensity of research on this population. He calls on the Scientific Committee to look at this issue in its next session.
Southern Hemisphere Right Whales.
The parade of whales continues. Many papers were received in the Scientific Committee on this issue this year. One stock of this species â€“ that in Chile and Peru was reviewed at a workshop ahead of the Committee meeting. There is considerable concern about this stock.
The Austrian scientific advisor speaks to raise concern about environmental perturbations and their effects.
This concludes â€˜stocksâ€™ says the chair â€“ bringing down a metaphorical gavel on a vast amount of scientific committee work which has been considered here at some pace.
Now we come to whale killing methods. As have had no working group this year, this matter will be considered exclusively here in plenary.
Papers are presented from New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Denmark/Greenland and the USA.
Norway stresses the progress that it has made. He adds that concerns have been raised about IWC criteria â€“ based primarily on immobility of whales â€“ however, this he suggests applies exclusively to a cold harpoon (no longer used). In the case of a detonating grenade, a matter that he has been looking into since the last meeting, he believes immobility is actually likely to under-estimate the numbers insensible and dead.
Australia welcomes the report from Norway. She urges other parties to provide similar reports.
Russia says it has long said that humane killing is not in the mandate of the Commission but on a voluntary basis it provides information. He details some of this referring to the use of darting guns, harpoons and rifles; the numbers of whales killed and struck and lost [what a terrible phrase that is] and also how many were â€˜inedibleâ€™.
Denmark/Greenland says it is difficult to follow Norwayâ€™s expertise but they welcome questions to their report.
USA notes that it provided its report earlier â€“ i.e. to the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling Workshop last week. He provides information about the expanding use of penthrite harpoons in the aboriginal hunt (the more humane option).
Lord Rooker, the UK Minister who is present here, comments that the continued absence of any welfare data from several contracting government is of great concern â€“ welfare oversight and reporting must be part â€“ we are disappointed that the working group on whale killing methods did not happen this year. This he stresses is essential for the next meeting.
High pregnancy rate of minke whales taken in Japanâ€™s Antarctic hunt is referred to. He asks Japan what measures are taken to ensure humane death of fetuses.
The Chair is squinting down the long room to see who else is calling for the floor. (At least Luxembourg and India are doing so but really he needs a telescope or similar optical device.)
India starts by thanking the host country. He suggests that the Commission should have a strong mechanism to monitor welfare issues.
He supports the UK on a whale killing methods mechanism and workshop and urges better welfare controls.
Luxembourg speaks up to also support the call from the UK for a welfare-focused working group and workshop at the next meeting. (He also thanks Chile for their kind hospitality.)
Japan says they too are interested in reducing suffering; we can talk about conservation; we can talk about welfare butâ€¦ we cannot talk about animal rights here. We have provided extensive data. In olden times we engaged in quite constructive discussion â€“ we have improved our hunts but we have a very unfortunate situation where most extreme cases only were reported. Japanâ€™s data he suggests was handled differently to other countries; so we now submit our data to other fora. It is important to us to achieve normalization and mutual respect.
A coffee break occurs.
The Netherlands supports a working group on welfare matters (few people are here because many are still outside (possibly scouring the building for biscuits).
Argentina also eloquently stresses the importance of this topic.
Korea says that animal welfare is an important question but in the view of this country it is largely outside of the mandate of the Commission. He suggests that high technology is already used and it is difficult to collect information in the field.
St Lucia takes the floor for the first time â€“ she says we must be cognisant of the fact that we are talking about hunting. She commends the hunting countries for the extensive work that they have done. We also have to be cognisant of the safety of the huntersâ€¦ sometimes it is more valuable to loose a whale, than loose a human life, she adds.
Bill Hogarth notes that last year we agree to hold a workshop on whale entanglement; this was meant to be held this year but was replaced by a scoping group meeting. He calls on the IWC Head of Science, Greg Donovan (a senior member of the IWC Secretariat) to report on this scoping meeting. The report is coming in the next twenty minutes and he suggests we look at this later.
We move on to the reports from observers from other organizations â€“ these are within an annex to the Scientific Committeeâ€¦. Delegates seem little interested.
However the Secretary of the Commission, Dr Nicky Grandy, now speaks of liaison with IMO (the International Marine Organisation) which oversees shipping activities. IMO met last week and it has given approval to IWC having observer status. [This is potentially important because of the issue of ship-strikes and whalesâ€¦ but also ship noise and other related pollution.]
The Chairman comments that now everyone is back in their seats, we have finished the agenda for the day. There is some laughter and then, 15 seconds later, more laughter (this is known as the translation effect).
Tomorrow, says the Chair, we shall look at documents relating to our future negotiations and also Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling. That you-all says the chair in closingâ€¦ buses leave at 18.30 for a reception.