IWC65 wrap up: major victories scored for whales

IWC 65 victories and progress bode well for whales like this minke in the Western Antarctic Peninsula’s Crystal Sound. © IFAW/A. Friedlaender I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but the tide really is finally turning in the battle to encourage Japan to end its high seas whaling around Antarctica. 

For the decade and a half I’ve led IFAW’s delegation to meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), we’ve consistently won vote counts on the floor, while steadily losing the body count of whales killed by the Government of Japan in the name of science in the waters of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, a massive marine protected area established by the IWC -- thanks in no small part to an earlier generation of IFAW leaders -- in 1994.

Learn all about IFAW @ IWC65: Read our news roundup.

Courting Change

Team IFAW approached this year’s IWC meeting, held late last month in Portoroz, Slovenia, with trepidation.

We were buoyed by a stunning, strong majority judgment by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in late March, which ruled Japan’s annual Southern Ocean slaughter conducted in the name of “science” illegal. Japan’s legal team at the ICJ and top officials in Tokyo immediately announced Japan would comply with the court’s judgment and cancel its Antarctic hunt this year.

But other IFAW colleagues and I working around the ocean planet saw our hopes for change dashed when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, arguably the most pro-whaling PM of the post-war period, subsequently announced that his government would continue Antarctic whaling despite the World Court judgment in a misguided effort to resuscitate the moribund whaling industry. 

“God defend New Zealand”

Whale huggers working for IFAW and other fine organizations around the world were encouraged in July when the government of New Zealand, which had supported Australia’s ICJ petition, signaled its intention to present a resolution at the IWC meeting to ensure the IWC took the provisions of the unprecedented ICJ judgment on board in its procedures and regulations. 

Despite significant pressure from all sides, including tens of thousands of email messages from committed IFAW supporters to governments worldwide and some sharp criticism and pretty pointed tweeting by Team IFAW in the course of the week, New Zealand IWC Commissioner Gerard van Bohemen brought a strong and solid majority resolution in for a landing on the final day of the Portoroz meeting -- a big win for whales and all of us around the world who care about them. 

And despite 11th hour attempts by Japan to weaken the New Zealand draft, the IWC has passed a resolution calling on Japan to seek the approval of the Scientific Committee and the full Commission itself rather than unilaterally embarking on a new research whaling boondoggle in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

This is very good news, and there was more of it at the recent IWC meeting.

The resolution does not block Japan from submitting a new proposal for whaling in the Antarctic but puts in place stricter guidelines for review by the IWC and its scientific committee according to the standards set out by the court, making sure the sham science Japan has pursued in the past is not allowed to continue. With this decision the bar has been raised and a greater emphasis on non-lethal research alternatives has been laid out. This is a significant step in the right direction and brings us that much closer to a permanent end to scientific whaling in the Antarctic and elsewhere.

The plucky Principality of Monaco made big waves for worldwide whale conservation when the IWC adopted its proposal to increase interaction and information sharing with other international entities and the United Nations regarding conservation of highly migratory cetacean species.

The Conservation Committee of the IWC set a bold course for continuing work on the threat of ship strikes, entanglement and ocean noise.  New funding from governments and NGOs, including IFAW, was announced to help advance critical conservation work and the protection of small whales and dolphins.  And a new memorandum of cooperation was signed by the governments of Russia, Japan and the United States to enhance efforts to protect threatened Western Gray Whales in the Far East.

The ripple effects of this work have already been felt as far away as Tokyo.

The ripple effects of IFAW work have already been felt as far away as Tokyo.

In the two weeks following the IWC meeting, two of Japan’s top three leading daily papers, Asahi Shimbun and Mayanichi Daily News have produced and published editorials calling on Japan to end its two decades of taxpayer subsidized whaling in the Southern Ocean. 

Both papers cited the ICJ judgment and New Zealand’s IWC resolution as signals that the global tide is turning in this long skirmish and that continuing such whaling is no longer in Japan’s interest.  Taken together with the launch of a new national whale watch operators association, the Japan Whale and Dolphin Watching Council, earlier this year in Tokyo, these developments portend a sea change in Japan’s approach to the whaling issue.

Perhaps most important, for the first time in more than a century, thanks to the World Court judgment, no whales will be chased and killed in the Southern Ocean, and the entire Southern Hemisphere this season, for the first time in more than a century. 

This is a stunning turn of events.

Straining to be objective, I can tell you they would not have unfolded this way without the steady, concerted work of my colleagues and the International Fund for Animal Welfare. And none of that work would be possible without you. 

Victories and progress in the field of whale conservation are sometimes few and far between.  But the tide is turning. The ground is shifting.  Together we CAN save the whales. Thank you for your steadfast support. Congratulations on what you have helped accomplish thus far.

It inspires and encourages us all for the important work ahead.

Gratefully,

--PR  

For more information on IFAW efforts to end commercial whaling, visit our campaign page.

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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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Sonja Van Tichelen, Vice President of International Operations
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Staci McLennan, Director, EU Office
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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
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