Director's blog - whale wars

Posted on 08 January 2010   |  
Whaler in Norway demonstrates a harpoon
© © WWF / Morten Lindhard
I was privileged to be part of WWF’s whale campaign between 2003 and 2006, so I have a special interest in the recent news about the Sea Shepherd and the Ady Gill, in the Antarctic.

I went to four of the International Whaling Commission meetings and saw first hand how dysfunctional it is, and how it neither regulates whaling nor ensures whale conservation. Countries at the IWC typically belong to the pro-whaling or anti-whaling blocs, and there have been reports - and even admissions by Japanese officials  - in recent years about how development aid and other funds have been used to “buy” countries support for pro-whaling.

Many organisations have campaigned for decades to try and stop commercial whaling, including WWF, IFAW and Greenpeace.

The sad truth is that even though a global moratorium on whaling was established in 1986, a growing number of whales are killed every year – including by Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – through various loopholes. Check out this shocking graph that WWF updates every year  to see just how the numbers killed are increasing. Norway and Iceland kill whales in the North Atlantic through an objection loophole, whereas Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling is labeled “scientific whaling” – through a loophole that allows countries to simply take as many whales as they want, from anywhere they want, without the need for approval by the IWC.

What makes the situation even stranger is that both Japanese citizens and those of the countries that support Japan’s pro-whaling stance, do not support their government’s actions. WWF found that 10 out of 10 Pacific and Caribbean countries did not agree with their governments support of pro-whaling motions at the IWC , and Greenpeace found most Japanese people did not support high seas whaling.

WWF believes that the IWC must be reformed – to get rid of the various loopholes, for a start, but also to update decision making processes and introduce dispute resolution measures. We believe that commercial whaling has no place in the modern world, but until it ends we must have an IWC that functions. The Pew Trusts currently run a major project on reforming the IWC and in 2006 WWF commissioned a leading environmental lawyer, Duncan Currie, to look in detail at how the IWC might be reformed.

Whaling in the Southern Ocean must stop, but it is hard to see how Japan will agree to this without some trade-off – such as a quota for minke whales in the North Pacific. But most anti-whaling countries and environment groups – including WWF - don’t find this acceptable. In the meantime Japan, Norway and Iceland will continue to kill whales in ever increasing numbers, and organisations like Sea Shepherd will continue to clash with the whalers in the Southern Ocean.

Whaler in Norway demonstrates a harpoon
© © WWF / Morten Lindhard Enlarge


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