Notes from Panama: We have a moral obligation to save whales in the 21st century

On the eve of the IWC meeting, hundreds gather in Panama to call for South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (July 1, 2012 Panama City, Panama) Hundreds of Panamanians and members of the International Community gathered along the Panama Canal and formed a giant human whale with the message “Santuario” (sanctuary) to call for the creation of the Southern Atlantic Whale Sanctuary on the eve of the 64th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) being held in Panama City as part of the Save the Whales Again! Campaign.  ©Jeff Pantukhoff/Spectral Q/Whaleman Foundation  Sponsors: Almanaque Azul, Ciudad del Saber, Fudacion Albatross Media, IFAW, GREENPEACE, TVN, and The Whaleman Foundation.Sitting through the third day of an International Whaling Commission meeting is not this American’s idea of fun on the Fourth of July.  

But there have been some fireworks.   

The Government of South Korea, in a surprising announcement and backward step one might not immediately associate with that particular country, today declared its intention to take up so-called “scientific” whaling, a practice pursued in recent years by Japan and Iceland, in an effort to end-run the global whaling ban.  

Chatting with members of the U.S. delegation during an afternoon coffee break here, one got the sense they would be working to encourage Korea to change course.  

And throughout the plenary session this afternoon, on issue after issue, the U.S. intervened to highlight important work underway on various conservation threats.

That’s good news for whales and appropriate too, because whatever the issues that polarize us, one that definitely unites the American people across the country and the political spectrum is saving the whales.  

A national survey of registered voters conducted this April by President Obama’s own pollster Joel Benenson shows overwhelming majorities of Americans want action on the issue. 

This too is good news and not a moment too soon.  Because in 2012, 40 years after President Nixon first signed the Marine Mammal Protection Act, our planet’s great whale species face more threats than ever.

The United States’ migration from Yankee whaling to world leader in whale watching was an amazing American journey. 

And the global ban on commercial whaling, adopted thirty years ago this year, with strong personal support from President Ronald Reagan is one of the most important environmental legacies of his generation. 

Like the whales it sought to protect, that tremendous conservation achievement is at risk from ongoing whaling for commercial purposes by Japan, Iceland and Norway – and soon, perhaps, Korea.  

Meanwhile, from Delaware to the DMZ, eighty-nine percent of American voters want their government to help enforce the worldwide ban on commercial whaling.  Seventy-seven percent want Congress and the administration to undertake a broader whale conservation program to address the wider array of threats facing whales in the 21st century. 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare put forward such a program on the eve of this meeting.

Our new “Blueprint for Whale Conservation”  building on recommendations from across the conservation community, presents a threat-by-threat roadmap for policy makers concerned with protecting whales for future generations in U.S. waters and worldwide. 

As I type, my wife kindly emails pictures of our children, all in red, white and blue for our village Independence Day parade. 

America is a nation proud of our whaling heritage, of “iron men in wooden boats” who set to sea and returned with the oil that lit the lamps of the Western world. Now, after two centuries of commercial whaling and a facing a host of other conservation challenges, America can again lead the world in whale protection.

We have a generational opportunity and a moral obligation to do so.  

We can save the whales in the 21st century.

Convincing Korea not to pick up the harpoon will be a good start. 

-- 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
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Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
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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Tania McCrea-Steele, Project Lead, Global Wildlife Cybercrime
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