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Whale of a Mistake

Recent proposal does not ban slaughter of cetaceans.

July 1, 2010
Greg Kaufman · Founder and Chief Scientist of Pacific Whale Foundation

While purporting to “bring an end to two decades of whaling effectively outside international control,” it actually rewards those who have been killing whales illegally—namely, Japan, Iceland and Norway. This “Gang of 3” have slaughtered over 30,000 whales since a worldwide moratorium on whaling was adopted by the IWC in 1986. Under the proposed “Consensus Decision” these whaling nations will be able to catch a total of 1,800 whales a year including two endangered species, fin and sei.

The “carrot” in this deal is that these three whaling nations (and supposedly only these three nations) will receive fresh new kill quotas established for the next 10 years on minke whales, sei and fin whales, with the possibility of sperm whales. The “stick” is these whaling countries will relinquish their so-called “rights” under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. These supposed “rights” include catching whales for scientific purposes (Japan) or under objection or reservation to the moratorium on commercial whaling that was adopted by the IWC in 1982 (Iceland and Norway).

Herein lies the problem: the proposed “Consensus Decision” simply kicks the whale meat can down the road 10 years. It does not nothing to phase out whaling, instead provides a re-evaluation period. There are no assurances the whalers will stick to their quotas or allotted species. And there is no assurance that legalizing whaling will reduce illegal harvesting. Quite frankly, the IWC has no ‘legal authority’ to enforce its rules or stop countries from whaling. The IWC can just toss you out of their whale club, or in the case of Japan, you simply threaten to take your harpoons and go home—and hunt whales as you please.

The proposal does nothing to deal with a new form of emerging whaling—“accidentally” catching whales in near-shore fishing nets off the coasts of Japan and South Korea. This so-called “bycatch whaling” kills as many whales each year as Japan’s scientific whaling program—about 150. Bycatch whaling has grown into a lucrative trade where the price of an adult minke whale fetches as much as $100,000 in the whale meat markets.

One key initiative arising from the IWC’s Scientific Committee meetings in Agadir, Morocco (May 30–June 11), was that “bycatch” killings must be counted as part of the new proposed kill quotas. Needless to say, the whalers did not meet such a logical notion with great joy.

The IWC’s move to legitimize whaling is not based on sound science or responsible management procedure; it is simply an attempt to reign in renegade members. But this task may be akin to herding cats. 

On the first day of scientific committee meetings, Korea defiantly announced, “If quotas will be set for whales, we will be asking for our share.” So much for allowing only the “Gang of 3” whaling nations to slaughter whales.

Where is the U.S. delegation in these discussions? Compromised. While saying “Save the Whales” out of one side of their collective mouths, our commissioners will also be requesting new kill quotas for the highly endangered bowhead whale for “aboriginal hunting purposes”—670 whales “struck” (harpooned) and 580 “landed” (killed) over 10 seasons from 2011–2020. Talk about “having it your way.”

On June 21, the IWC opened its 62nd meeting in Agadir, Morocco. The fate of thousands of whales, the commercial whaling moratorium and the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary is at stake. It is time for closure on this issue. 

Time to put an end to status quo—allowing the “Gang of 3” to catch whales outside of IWC control. Put an end to the nonsensical discussions surrounding the faulty “Consensus Decision.” 



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