Waving The White Flag On Whaling
In this season of political polarization, it is rare to find a massive issue on which we all agree. But thar' she blows! From sea to shining sea and across the political spectrum, Americans love whales. Polls conducted over the past decade consistently show overwhelming majorities of Republicans, Democrats and Independents want these magnificent creatures protected for future generations. Voters of all persuasions and subgroups - from rural, conservative GOP-types, to urban, liberal Democrats - want our government to take action to end resurgent commercial whaling by Japan, Iceland and Norway. All the more stunning then to learn the latest bad idea from the Bush administration is to legitimize such predatory whaling in the 21st century.
Next week, representatives from 26 countries will gather in a secret, closed-door meeting at the Tradewinds Islands Grand Beach Resort in St. Pete Beach, Florida, to hear longtime presidential appointee Dr. William Hogarth push a Bush plan to overturn the global whaling ban and bow to Japanese demands for new whaling quotas.
The International Whaling Commission is an 80 nation body charged with the conservation of our planet's great whales, not their decimation. In 1986, the IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling, culminating in one of the 20th century's most important conservation successes. Since then the IWC has issued quotas only for Aboriginal subsistence whaling such as that responsibly conducted by Alaska natives. Yet more than 30,000 whales have been killed for commercial purposes since the ban. The government of Japan,claiming it kills whales for science, has increased its whaling in international waters five-fold and is threatening to add the iconic humpback whale to its target list. Most of Japan's annual scientific slaughter is conducted in an international whale sanctuary!
Even without this assault, whales face more threats today than ever before in history including marine pollution, destruction and degradation of critical habitats, entanglements in fishing gear, collisions with high speed vessels, ocean noise pollution from shipping, seismic testing and indiscriminate use of deadly sonar. Scientists now tell us climate change already is affecting breeding, feeding and migration patterns for these marine mammals. Taken together, these threats pose real challenges to whale populations just beginning to recover from more than two centuries of commercial slaughter.
If the situation in the water is bad for whales, the situation inside the commission established to protect them is worse. After years of U.S. drift and disinterest, conservation-minded countries find themselves outmanned and sometimes outmaneuvered by a 50 person strong Japanese delegation, Iceland,Norwayand a steady stream of small island states and landlocked developing countries recruited to the IWC in recent years to vote in lockstep with Japan.
While United States influence inside the IWC is on the wane, Japan's government is far more focused, engaged and aggressive, inside and outside the IWC, in pursuit of its declared objective - to kill more whales.
Faced with this challenge, the Bush administration has, for once, decided to retreat. Our delegation will sue for peace behind closed doors in St. Petersburg, ready to trade away the whaling ban for a package of empty measures it will insist result from compromise rather than defeat - a package even Dr. Hogarth admits the U.S. may never publicly support.
With ground rules better suited to Soviet Russia than sunny Florida, the St. Petersburg meeting will be closed to media, observers and nongovernmental experts, undoing years of transparency and openness at the IWC achieved with U.S. leadership.
Candidates please note: consistent majorities of Americans want their government to lead the fight to end commercial whaling. They want strong public statements and meaningful diplomatic action. Most would support measured trade sanctions. Nearly 60 percent say they would be more likely to vote for a candidate for president who took a firm stand against Japanese whaling. If we take the issue seriously - and it's not too late - the United States has the power to change the situation in the IWC and in the water for our planet's great whales. Sadly, it appears the governments of Japan, Iceland and Norway care more about killing whales than the Bush administration cares about conserving and protecting them.