This week saw the 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which this year took place in Panama. Conclusions were mixed as usual, with some victories.. and some failures. It’s only fair that I start with the positives.
As I discussed recently, an undercover operation by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) and the Animal Welfare Institute found that Greenland, a country managed by Denmark, sells whale meat to tourists in restaurants and supermarkets. This is undermining the IWC rules that allow whales to be killed for indigenous peoples’ nutritional or cultural needs. Denmark, on behalf of Greenland, asked the IWC for an increase in its whale quota for the next six years, so that they could kill more humpback and endangered fin whales. As a result of the WDCS investigation, a refusal to back down from Denmark, and criticism from Latin and EU countries, the IWC rejected this increase in quota. In fact, in a procedural failure, Denmark failed to get any quota approved at all. Denmark probably didn’t help their cause by claiming that Greenland wouldn’t stop selling whale meat to tourists, or that Greenland’s whalers could use baseball bats to kill whales if they wanted to…
I count that a win. You can read more on this result on the WDCS website.
The second positive thing to come out of the IWC meeting was a call for Mexico and New Zealand to take immediate measures to protect the vaquita and Maui’s dolphin – some of the world’s most critically endangered cetacean species. It is believed that there are only 55 Maui’s dolphins over one year old left, but recent protection measures announced by the New Zealand government just aren’t good enough. A report by the IWC Scientific Committee said that both species are severely threatened by accidental bycatch in gillnet fisheries, and a total ban on the use of gillnets in the entire ranges of both populations is essential to secure their survival. Let’s hope the governments of Mexico and New Zealand take on this advice, before we have another baiji on our hands. You can read more here (WWF) and here (NABU International).
Unfortunately, the IWC continued to place roadblocks in the way of cetacean conservation. Earlier in the week, a proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (held over from last year’s meeting following a walkout by Japan and its pro-whaling bloc) was considered but failed to receive a 3/4 majority vote among member countries present. It would have provided greater protection for whales in the region, although some nations described the idea as ‘purely symbolic’. Read more here (BBC) and here (Merco Press, with comments from Greenpeace).
Meanwhile, commercial whaling still continues, and South Korea has threatened to join in under the controversial ‘scientific whaling’ category. Citing calls from fishermen for a resumption of limited whaling, South Korea says that it is working on a proposal to hunt minke whales migrating off the Korean Peninsula. The country says that its whalers are frustrated that the moratorium remains in place and makes claims that a recovering whale population threatens fish stocks. These arguments mimic those made by Japan and have no scientific credibility. Mark Simmonds, International Director of Science at WDCS, suggested that the move may also be due to South Korea’s inability to limit its own existing illegal whaling (see full opinion piece in the New Scientist).
South Korea intends to produce their plan sometime in the next year. It remains to be seen whether they will resume whaling, so until then conservationists have yet another fight on their hands to ensure the continued moratorium on commercial whaling. The next IWC meeting will be in two years’ time.