WATCH: Calm before the storm for whales in Panama?

As I and other members of Team IFAW and government delegates from dozens of member countries migrate to Panama City, Panama for the 2012 meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), speculation continues to swirl.  What’s in store over the next week for our planet’s great whales?   And what is the future for the IWC -- the global body tasked with conserving them and controlling whaling?

The atmospheric pressure has been building for months.

Last year’s IWC meeting ended in a stormy walkout by Japan, Iceland, Norway and 18 other countries from the “pro-whaling” bloc desperate to avoid a vote on creation of a new South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary and other measures to protect whales around the world from the wide variety of threats they face.  

The Sanctuary proposal is slated to be one of the first issues taken up this year, so Japan may try similar tactics to scuttle the 64th annual IWC meeting before it even starts.  Assuming it does indeed open, this year’s meeting will be historic in several ways.  It’s been 30 years since the adoption of the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling and 25 years since Japan’s ‘scientific whaling’ program began.

This is the first meeting of IWC since the adoption of measures aimed at improving its effectiveness and banning cash payment of dues. It is also predicted to be the last time that delegates meet for a full annual meeting before moving to biennial meetings. IFAW team members from Europe, Asia, Australia and North America will participate as NGO delegates here, working with member government delegations to see that 2012 is remembered as a year of progress in protecting whales for future generations.

For that to happen, engaged leadership will be required from conservation-minded countries including the Buenos Aires Group, a strong bloc of Latin American countries leading the charge in recent years for whale conservation, the United States, European Union nations, Australia, New Zealand and other so-called “likeminded” countries supporting whale protection.

In the bright sunshine here this morning, members of Team IFAW joined hundreds of others at a colorful local rally celebrating whales on a hillside overlooking the Panama Canal.  A wonderfully diverse group of men, women and children from down the street and around the world gathered to share a vision of whales living free from the threat of commercial slaughter.  As we did so, unnoticed by many, half a dozen vultures circled, soaring high overhead.   As the 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission opens here in Panama, that juxtaposition is striking. 

Will the IWC continue its slow but steady migration toward 21st century whale conservation supported by a growing international consensus for whale conservation?  Or is this aging forum doomed to die a slow death at the hands of Japan, Iceland and Norway -- the last three countries still killing whales for commercial purposes?  Actions taken and not taken here in Panama will decide the answers to these questions as this week’s meeting unfolds. 

Team IFAW will be issuing updates throughout the week.

Stand with us as we work to protect and defend whales at the IWC!

-- PR

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