Behind the Velvet Rope

Behind the Velvet Rope

Tradewinds Grand Islands Resort, St. Pete Beach, Florida  -- I've had some interesting experiences since signing on as director of IFAW's global whale program almost two years ago. 

I've sat in lots of meetings, strategy and planning sessions with IFAW colleagues, campaigners, scientists and government officials from around the world.  I've sat in countless press conferences and a myriad of media interviews.  I've led IFAW's delegation to International Whaling Commission (IWC) meetings in Anchorage, Alaska and Santiago, Chile.  I've dressed up in a (less than flattering) Elvis suit to impersonate The King at Graceland, crooning alternative lyrics to "Don't Be Cruel" during a (wacky!) visit by President Bush and the Japanese Prime Minister. 

I've sat inside a tiny Cessna plane for twelve days with my son Henry, taking IFAW's message of whale protection to new heights all the way across the United States.  And this June I sat next to IWC Chairman Dr. William Hogarth as we both testified before a Congressional subcommittee questioning the objectives of the Bush Administration on the whaling issue. 

All these experiences were unusual, but today's feels even more strange.   I find myself sitting in the lobby of a high-end Florida resort, watching delegates from 26 countries -- some of them true friends and allies in the battle to save the whales -- file in and out of a closed-door meeting on the future of the IWC and the whales it was established to protect. 

Official government representatives are the only ones permitted in.  The rest of us, and there aren't many; just me and my friend D.J. Schubert of AWI who also is active in the Whales Need US coalition, and Duncan Curry, an international advisor to the Pew Whale Program, are left sitting outside in the hall as the government delegates go behind the velvet rope.

This sort of secrecy is unusual even for the IWC, a forum that has lagged behind other international conventions in moving to more openness and transparency.   At the urging of the United States and several other countries, IWC plenary and working group meetings have welcomed non-governmental organizations and media obserImage_021vers in recent years, including the dozen IWC meetings I've attended since joining IFAW. 

But today's meeting is different.   Matt Clark, an amiable federal special agent is here with a team of four security guards to ensure this taxpayer-funded session stays closed. He greets me warmly but also lets me know I am being watched.  "I don't mind telling you your name came up when you registered to stay in the hotel," he says cheerfully. Image_020_2"I told them you had never taken any hostile action . . . so it was fine for you to be here."  Matt and the other hardworking agents stand outside the doors of the Tarpon and Sawyer Key ballrooms, arms folded. Everything is safe and secure, except perhaps the fate of our planet's great whales, behind the velvet rope.

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