Notes from Panama: We have a moral obligation to save whales in the 21st century
Sitting through the third day of an International Whaling Commission meeting is not this American’s idea of fun on the Fourth of July.
But there have been some fireworks.
The Government of South Korea, in a surprising announcement and backward step one might not immediately associate with that particular country, today declared its intention to take up so-called “scientific” whaling, a practice pursued in recent years by Japan and Iceland, in an effort to end-run the global whaling ban.
Chatting with members of the U.S. delegation during an afternoon coffee break here, one got the sense they would be working to encourage Korea to change course.
And throughout the plenary session this afternoon, on issue after issue, the U.S. intervened to highlight important work underway on various conservation threats.
That’s good news for whales and appropriate too, because whatever the issues that polarize us, one that definitely unites the American people across the country and the political spectrum is saving the whales.
A national survey of registered voters conducted this April by President Obama’s own pollster Joel Benenson shows overwhelming majorities of Americans want action on the issue.
This too is good news and not a moment too soon. Because in 2012, 40 years after President Nixon first signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, our planet’s great whale species face more threats than ever.
The United States’ migration from Yankee whaling to world leader in whale watching was an amazing American journey.
And the global ban on commercial whaling, adopted thirty years ago this year, with strong personal support from President Ronald Reagan is one of the most important environmental legacies of his generation.
Like the whales it sought to protect, that tremendous conservation achievement is at risk from ongoing whaling for commercial purposes by Japan, Iceland and Norway – and soon, perhaps, Korea.
Meanwhile, from Delaware to the DMZ, eighty-nine percent of American voters want their government to help enforce the worldwide ban on commercial whaling. Seventy-seven percent want Congress and the administration to undertake a broader whale conservation program to address the wider array of threats facing whales in the 21st century.
Our new “Blueprint for Whale Conservation” building on recommendations from across the conservation community, presents a threat-by-threat roadmap for policy makers concerned with protecting whales for future generations in U.S. waters and worldwide.
As I type, my wife kindly emails pictures of our children, all in red, white and blue for our village Independence Day parade.
America is a nation proud of our whaling heritage, of “iron men in wooden boats” who set to sea and returned with the oil that lit the lamps of the Western world. Now, after two centuries of commercial whaling and a facing a host of other conservation challenges, America can again lead the world in whale protection.
We have a generational opportunity and a moral obligation to do so.
We can save the whales in the 21st century.
Convincing Korea not to pick up the harpoon will be a good start.