Seal, whale campaign successes can serve future generations (Part 1)

After decades of campaigning, we at the International Fund for Animal Welfare have celebrated concurrent major victories regarding whales and seals at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and World Trade Organization (WTO), respectively.

As we look back in retrospect, we are reminded that campaigns that otherwise operate independently of one another can unfold similarly over time.

This is part one in a two-part series addressing the dynamics of two historic campaigns.


For the first summer in one-hundred years, whales will be left unmolested in the Southern Ocean.

In order to wage a long campaign against animal welfare injustice, such as our steadfast opposition to commercial whaling and our ongoing crusade against the cruelty of the Canadian seal hunt, IFAW must be willing to do battle in a variety of arenas—from the courts of public opinion to the courts of law, from the marketplace of ideas to the actual consumer marketplace.

When IFAW began such campaigns, we didn’t have blueprints for decades of action. When the situation changed, we changed with it. Because of our commitment and passion for such a cause, we have gone wherever the fight takes us.

Forty years ago, IFAW founder Brian Davies and a few other brave souls ventured out onto the Canadian ice floes and captured the bloody and horrific seal hunt in grim photographs and film footage. A few high-profile newspapers broadcast the story to the world, including the Paris Match and a few British tabloids, which ran on their front pages the first photos to an international audience.

The reaction to such visceral imagery was palpable, albeit limited: Word did not spread as fast in 1969 as a viral video takes over social media today. But Brian and his cohorts kept at it. Brian knew that in order to increase media attention, he had to get more people out on the ice, and he started inviting celebrities, global politicians, and in one attempt to create fresh interest, a group of flight attendants.

A decade passed.

Worldwide attention to the seal hunt continued to grow. But other than raising the public ire, was Brian’s campaign making strides to entirely eliminate the slaughter? While the United States Marine Mammal Act of 1972 shut down the trade in America, the European markets for seal skin were flourishing.

RELATED: WTO votes to affirm EU ban on seal products

RELATED: Seal, whale campaign successes can serve future generations (Part 2)

Brian knew that in order to achieve success, he had to convince European politicians that trade to their consumer nations needed to stop. The biggest favor the Canadian government ever did for Brian was to revoke his permits to go out on the ice. Once they did so, he ditched the survival suits for those made of tweed and polyester and headed to the European Community (EC).

Brian appreciated the dynamics of military strategy. He knew battles were not necessarily won with sheer force, but by seeking out and exploiting otherwise overlooked weaknesses. When Canadian officials testified in the EC on the seal trade, Brian was lurking in the back rows of the hall and quickly jumped up to comment on the holes in their logic.

Finally, in 1983, the EC banned the importation of pelts, meat and other products from so-called whitecoats, or newborn seals, as well as blueback hooded seal products. It was not exactly what Brian was hoping for, but he took it. Four years later, the Canadian Government banned commercial hunting of such animals in Canadian waters.

It was a victory at the time, but more work had to be done.


Hundreds of years ago, ships from all over the world sailed the seas slaughtering whales for their oil to light lamps. The communities of New Bedford and Nantucket, coincidentally not far from our headquarters here on Cape Cod, led the charge. But as fuel alternatives flourished and electric grids were established, the industry diminished and by the mid-20th century most nations had halted any remnants of this practice. When the International Whaling Commission banned commercial whaling in 1986, all but three nations complied.

Eight years later, IFAW spearheaded international efforts to establish the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. But Japan ignored the sanctuary and continued its kill under the guise of research. More than 30 IWC resolutions strongly criticising Japan’s whaling made no impact; since the global moratorium on commercial whaling was introduced, Japan has killed more than 14,000 whales in the name of science, the vast majority of these in the Southern Ocean.

The market for whale meat declined to almost nothing over the next twenty years, but the three whaling countries persevered. Then, at the 2007 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Alaska, a panel clearly outlined legal channels that the Australian government could take to stop Japan from whaling, under any guise, in the Southern Ocean.

IFAW saw an opportunity.

We convened four panels of international legal experts between 2006 and 2009, whose conclusion that this issue could be tried in court inspired the government of Australia to launch its case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, the first ever brought before the court involving a wildlife issue.

While arguments were being made in The Hague last summer by representatives of the Australian government, the lobbying efforts against whale meat trade started to materialize into victories.

Rotterdam declared it wanted no part in the whale meat trade after containers from Icelandic cargo company Samskip were found to include whale meat.

The discovery of shipped meat provoked a similar response at Hamburg Port. The containers were sent back to Iceland, but that nation’s lone whaler, Kristjan Loftsson reportedly plans to keep killing these endangered animals despite now having no apparent available means to hire transport.

On March 31, 2014, whales programme director Patrick Ramage and renowned whale biologist Vassili Papastavrou waited patiently in the gallery of The World Court for the ICJ ruling.



The tweet came through shortly after 10 am GMT; nearly four years after IFAW had seized the opportunity to encourage the Government of Australia to bring their case against the Government of Japan at the ICJ, and nearly 30 years after the original moratorium against whaling, we had won this battle as well.

But like the seal victory previously mentioned, the whale campaign was far from over.


Read IFAW Campaigns Director, Wildlife Sheryl Fink’s post on today’s victory for seals at the WTO here.

Part two of this series, to be published tomorrow, will look at the seal campaign since 1983 and the plans for the IFAW whale campaign going forward. Read it here.

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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