64th Annual International Whaling Commission Meeting
The 64th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held in Panama City, Panama, from June 11 through July 6. Since 1986, when the International Whaling Commission adopted the commercial whaling moratorium, over 35,000 whales have been slaughtered.
IWC meetings will now take place every two years instead of yearly, but the Scientific Committee will continue to meet yearly. Its next meeting will be in South Korea, May-June 2013.
The ongoing killing of whales by Japan under their interpretation of "scientific research" receives the most attention, but there are many issues facing cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) such as ship strikes, net entanglement, marine debris, whale watching, chemical pollutants in cetacean bodies, sonar testing, habitat destruction, and countries that continue to promote commercial whaling. This year's shocking and massive die-off of 900 dolphins along a long coastline of northern Peru demonstrates the fragility of the world population of cetaceans.
Some of the issues discussed:
Japan - Their request to begin small scale whaling by its coastal communities was tabled. Minke whales (the smallest of the large whales) are safe for a while.
Monaco - A resolution by Monaco proposed urging the United Nations to become more involved in whale conservation and governance. Presently, the UN defers to the IWC about whaling issues. The resolution was defeated.
South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary - Some Latin American countries continued their efforts to establish a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary and, once again, the vote was defeated but by a narrower margin than in the past. The proposal was supported by 64% but it was short of the three-fourths majority required by IWC rules. Japan is very opposed to this sanctuary even though there is declining domestic consumption of whale meat in their country and increasing opposition abroad.
South Korea - Officials announced that they will submit a proposal at the next IWC meeting to allow their fishermen to hunt whales for "scientific research." However, after worldwide protests, they backed down from whaling plans. Fisheries official Kang Joon-suk said that Seoul may discard whaling plans if it can find ways to study whales without killing them. What this means is unknown. South Korea had a long tradition of whaling before the international moratorium was introduced in 1986.
Denmark-Greenland - Denmark proposed - on behalf of Greenland - to increase the number of whales in its annual kill for "aboriginal and subsistence" purposes. This proposal got 43% support which was far short of the three-fourths majority needed by IWC rules.The U.S. supported Greenland and aboriginal whaling. The EU community expressed sympathy for aboriginal peoples but Greenland's whaling has been exposed as commercial enterprises because whale meat is sold in restaurants and grocery stores, not distributed to aboriginal people.
Ship Strikes -The IWC has established a global database on ship strikes, and it recommended the appointment of a ship strike data coordinator. It was noted that the U.S. and Panama have made progress on this threat to whales.
Vaquita - The vaquita, a small porpoise, is one of Save The Whales' major issues. The world is faced with the very real possibility that the vaquita could become extinct. In 2006, the Yangtze River dolphin (baiji) was declared extinct. The same fate awaits the tiny vaquita, "panda of the sea." It has been discussed endlessly but the only effort that will save the vaquita is the removal of all gillnets from its range in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico. This is the only population of vaquita in the world. For more information on vaquita:
Comment from Austrian Commissioner:
We have had one very worst case scenario recently with the baiji. Mr. Chair, my fellow commissioners, we are on the brink of another worst case scenario with the vaquita in Mexico. How much greater must the shame be when a highly-evolved species is on the brink of extinction again? Frankly, it's time for diplomatic niceties and step-wise strategies to take a backseat to action. Our organization is about to be shamed. We will be under the eternal judgment from future generations if we fail.
We call on the IWC, range states, and NGOs to raise this issue to a higher level of resoluteness.
United States and Other Countries Aboriginal Hunting Quotas
Over the past year, the U.S. has led informal group discussions to settle aboriginal whale hunting issues. They came up with "bundling" the Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling requests together in order to obtain four, six-year bowhead quotas for its native Alaskan communities. Current IWC regulations permit aboriginal subsistence whaling for Denmark (Greenland: fin and minke whales), the Russian Federation (Siberia: gray and bowhead whales), St. Vincent and the Grenadines (Bequia: humpback whales), and the U.S. (Alaska: bowhead and gray whales). Bequia does not meet the criteria of "aboriginal," as whaling began there as a family whaling business in 1875. Because of the questionable conduct of the U.S., for six more years the humpbacks of the Caribbean will be targeted by "whalers" who chase them in speedboats. Mothers are separated from babies and whales are killed indiscriminately.
Amount of Whale Takes by Aboriginal Peoples
(most current figures).
United States: Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock of bowhead whales (taken by native people of Alaska and Chukotka). A total of up to 280 bowhead whales can be landed in the 2008-2012 period with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (and up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
Eastern North Pacific gray whales (taken by native people of Chukotka and Washington State). A total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 2008-2012 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.
Greenland-Denmark:East Greenland common minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 12 whales is allowed for the years 2008-2012, with any unused quota available to be carried forward to subsequent years, provided that no more than 3 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
West Greenland bowhead whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 2 whales is allowed for 2008-2012 with an annual review by the Scientific Committee. Any unused quota can be carried forward to subsequent years so long as not more than 2 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
West Greenland fin whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 16 whales is allowed for the years 2010-2012. However at the 2010 meeting, Denmark and Greenland agreed to voluntarily reduce further the catch limit for the West Greenland stock of fin whales from 16 to 10 for each of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012.
West Greenland common minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 178 whales is allowed for the years 2010-2012 with an annual review by the Scientific Committee. Any unused quota can be carried forward so long as no more than 15 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
West Greenland humpback whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual strike limit of 9 whales is allowed for the years 2010-2012 with an annual review by the Scientific Committee. Any unused quota can be carried forward so long as not more than 2 strikes are added to the quota for any one year.
End of IWC Meeting.
A bureau was established to handle IWC affairs between meetings. It currently consists of the Chair, Vice Chair, Chair of the Finance and Administration Committee and four other members who represent a range of views in the Commission.