Whales: a little less conversation, a little more action?

Posted by Willie — 9 December 2008 at 4:10pm - Comments

Dead whale being transferred from bow to midships of whaling ship

While the IWC talks, the whalers are on their way back to the Southern Ocean © Greenpeace / Davison

This week, the International Whaling Commission is having an intersessional meeting in Cambridge to discuss its future. Whilst it's good news that these meetings are taking place (Greenpeace has been pushing for reform of the IWC into a body that works for the whales for many years), you have to ask yourself how much of this is just bluster.

At the same time as the international delegations are meeting, the Japanese whaling fleet is on its way to the Southern Ocean to kill whales for a bogus 'scientific' programme that is not endorsed by the IWC, and will take place in an area the IWC has designated a whale sanctuary. Despite measures to avoid confrontation at the last proper IWC meeting (which basically meant the pro-conservation countries not raising any issues that would be contentious with Japan and its allies), there has been no compromise from the whaling nations. Japan has not even officially reduced its own self-appointed quota.

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Instead Japan has very publicly accepted the import of whale meat from Iceland. This meat is from fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet and one still listed as an endangered species. They are also reputed to be one of the best-tasting whales, which may make you raise an eyebrow when you consider exactly why Japan added 50 fin whales to its 'scientific' programme? If this was happening to endangered animals on land there would be outrage. Indeed the trade in this whale meat is illegal for most countries, but Japan and Iceland have raised objections to a ban and so they get away with it. Yes, it's as if you can just make up your own rules when it comes to whaling!

The irony is that in Iceland, a country feeling the strain more than most in these economic times, depends heavily on tourism. And whale watching is one of the fastest growing elements of Iceland’s tourism industry. It is for this reason that the foreign minister, the national airline, and the Icelandic tourist board all oppose whaling. They know that without a doubt, whales are worth more alive than dead to Iceland.

Meanwhile in Japan, far from offering a conciliatory approach to whaling, the government is actively attempting to quash dissent on whaling by prosecuting Junichi and Toru (the Tokyo Two) for their part on exposing scandal within the whaling fleet. The politically-motivated trial of Greenpeace Japan’s activists has attracted worldwide support from those who are opposed to whaling and many have already signed up to show they stand with Junichi and Toru to end Japan’s commercial whaling. This week several representatives of Greenpeace worldwide are visiting Japan to declare their solidarity with the Tokyo Two.

Again the irony here is that the Japanese whaling industry, and this politically-motivated trial, are both funded by the Japanese tax-payers. Yet for most of them whaling is not an issue, only a tiny minority even eat whale meat with any regularity. A Greenpeace poll earlier this year found that two-thirds of the Japanese public did not support its own whaling programme in the Southern Ocean.

And of course there are many other issues that are being repeatedly ignored whilst the IWC continues to be preoccupied with commercial whaling; at the 2006 IWC meeting the baiji, a Chinese river dolphin, was declared extinct. At the 2007 IWC meeting it was suggested that the vaquita, a Mexican porpoise, could be extinct within as little as five years.

So, what next? The meeting in Cambridge is part of a series of meetings that will report back to the next full IWC meeting in June 2009. We will have to wait and see if the whaling nations are sincere about seeking and end to the deadlock on whaling, and an unworkable IWC, or whether they are all talk.

About Willie

Hi, I'm Willie, I work with Greenpeace on all things ocean-related

Twitter: @williemackenzie

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