A good week for whales? Tune in tomorrow!

With IWC Officials looking on, US IWC Commissioner Russell Smith, Japan's Joji Morishita and Russia's Valentin Ilyushenko sign a new cooperative agreement to protect Western Gray Whales.As I sit down to type up this blog, it’s 1:30 in the morning in Portoroz, Solvenia. And it’s been an up and down week for whales and Team IFAW at the 65th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Lots of issues have been discussed, but most decisions have been deferred to the final day-long session which opens in 7 hours. So, while we will soon know, it is still too early to say for certain whether this has been a good week for whales at the IWC.

Perhaps the high point of the Portoroz meeting so far has been passage of the Principality of Monaco’s resolution on Highly Migratory Cetaceans.

Thanks to strong support from whale conservation countries here, including a united EU bloc, this resolution was adopted by a big majority vote (37 to 15, with 7 abstentions). The forward looking measure, which IFAW has supported from the start, should ensure greater cooperation between the IWC and other international and regional conventions that can play a part in securing a better future for whales and dolphins. 

Efforts to achieve consensus support for New Zealand’s resolution on Whaling Under Special Permit continued into last evening. This important measure is drafted to ensure the IWC implements the recent judgment of the International Court of Justice, which declared Japan’s Antarctic whaling illegal and ordered it to stop.

As a party to the ICJ case that ended Japan’s “scientific” whaling, New Zealand’s team here is working diligently to ensure future IWC procedures are in line with the court’s decision.

Their hope, and ours, has been that this resolution would be passed by consensus. But Japan, after initially insisting it would comply with the World Court decision, has since indicated its intention to launch a new Antarctic “research” whaling program, and may try to end run or eviscerate the new measures.

We will have to wait, watch and see what they and other governments do on the floor of the meeting tomorrow. 

Other positive developments include passage of a new Action Plan for future work on the welfare of whales at the IWC. This plan, pushed by the UK following extended negotiations with Norway, passed by consensus. Financial contributions committed by Governments and NGOs including IFAW will support specific important work on entanglement and other deadly threats to the welfare of whales worldwide.

This afternoon, IWC Commissioners of the United States, Japan and Russia signed a new Agreement for enhanced cooperation to protect the Western gray whale, a critically endangered species that faces threats along its range, including shipping, entanglement, noise pollution from oil and gas exploration and construction activities in its critical feeding areas. 

IFAW Russia Director Masha Vorontsova, IFAW Japan Representative Naoko Funahashi and I joined the ceremony and congratulated the Commissioners involved on their important step in this long-term IFAW campaign.

While Icelandic whaling was not formally on the agenda at this year’s meeting, there have been strong statements and interventions on Icelandic whaling from the EU, the US, Latin American countries, Australia and New Zealand. 

There are big decisions ahead for IWC Member countries when the final day of IWC65 meeting opens. 

In addition to the New Zealand Resolution, we expect action to be taken on...

  • A proposal by Japan for a Small Type Coastal whaling quota which, if passed, as Japan has openly admitted here, would re-open commercial whaling, despite the IWC moratorium.
  • Brazil’s proposal the creation of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, which would require a ¾ majority vote to be formally established – a difficult achievement given the current vote count, and...
  • Several other agenda items including resolutions on civil society participation and the operations of the scientific committee.

Team IFAW will be up and at ‘em early and here till the end, working on the floor of this important meeting and worldwide to protect whales from commercial whaling and the many other threats they face for generations to come. 

Thank you for making this vital work possible.

--PR

Check back with us for more on the final day’s developments at the Portoroz meeting of the IWC.

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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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