51 Days And Counting Until IWC 60.
It’s just a few days past Earth Day, and while most of the world is jazzed about taking steps to help the environment, pro-whaling nations are preparing to once again justify their need to contribute to biodiversity loss at the upcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Santiago Chile. I thought it might be a good start if I share some insight into just why this meeting is such a big deal.
First off you have to understand that whales are still-hunted. No joke. I’m not talking about hunting whales with a hand thrown harpoon by native people to feed their village. I’m talking about explosive-tipped-high-powered-harpoons fired from ocean going ships; along with factory vessels that take to sea for months at a time, turning a live whale into steaks or packaged into spam looking cans in no time. Let’s get one thing straight, this is not classical whaling where characters with names like Ahab command ships like the Pequod against all challenges nature can dish out. Nope, this is big time. If Ahab is the neighborhood corner store today’s industrialized whaling would be walmart.
I first thought saving whales was a cliché term leftover from a generation before me and the world had moved on to more important environmental problems. After all with a warming climate, over fishing, and global biodiversity loss on an unprecedented scale, the need to protect whales just seems as obvious as not eating lead paint. Whenever someone asks what I do for a living my usual response is ‘I save whales’. A reply usually met with laughter as most of my friends firmly believe whales are saved.
They’re not. With all the challenges our planet faces, protecting whales appears obvious to most. Unfortunately it is not as apparent for whaling nations such as Japan. A nation that is one of the most forward thinking on environmental issues yet doesn’t seem to grasp the importance of protecting the world’s whales. Nonetheless, I digress; I’m supposed to be telling you about the IWC.
The IWC is the international body that is charged with all things whales. It was formed as a result of the International Convention For The Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) to conserve whale stocks and regulate whaling. A convention signed into agreement back in 1946, when we knew a small fraction of what we know about whales and responsible ecosystem stewardship. In 1946 man had not yet reached the moon, computers were pretty much non-existent, and color TV was still a far off dream. Yet somehow the international policy that guides the IWC hasn’t been updated since then. Would you go to a Doctor that pulled out a reference book from 1946?
Each year representatives of member nations gather to make management decisions on behalf of whales. Most notably, the 1982 global moratorium on commercial whaling that banned all whale hunting with the exception of subsistence hunting by native peoples. The whaling ban was the result of the ruckus created by the save-the-whales generation of the 70’s and 80’s. Enactment of the ban caused whaling to move off the radar screen of most Americans, and focus on larger global challenges where the solution isn’t as simple.
Today the IWC has evolved into a forum where whaling nations attempt to justify hunting whales as being of some benefit to science. Seriously, I wish I were kidding, but the organization formed to circumvent the whaling ban by exploiting a loophole in the moratorium allowing lethal scientific whaling,
Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research, claims that lethal scientific study of perfectly healthy whales is critical to responsible ocean management.
One such ‘responsible’ research paper was actually about interbreeding whales with cows. I really wish I was kidding here, that this was some really bad joke, but Japan’s IWC representatives actually present this kind of stuff with a straight face.
Science, and in turn, common sense seems to take a backseat to underhanded political maneuvering and all out vote buying. On top of all this whaling nations claim hunting whales is culturally necessary, that somehow commercial whaling by them is equal to the subsistence hunts undertaken by arctic native peoples. Last I checked subsistence hunting didn’t involve explosive harpoons and large ships. There is just no comparison between the two and doing so plainly insults those who have responsibly and respectfully lived of the ocean for millennia.
This is my 30 second or less all-to-brief rundown of the chaos surrounding the IWC. Over the coming months I’ll keep you posted on both the comical pro-commercial whaling arguments and conservation actions that may arise out of the 2008 meeting. In addition to the same old arguments by pro-whaling nations, international votes will be held on a number of whale protection measures such as the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. Stay tuned by subscribing in an RSS reader or through IFAW’s whale e-alerts, either way, IFAW’s whale program is the place to be for concise, insightful, and up to the minute information on all things whale. Sign up for our e-alerts today!