The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission wound up its meeting on Thursday, June 19th in Berlin, Germany with the 51 member organization more deeply divided than ever.
The body responsible for management of the world’s whales passed the Berlin Initiative to set up a conservation committee by a simple majority vote, but proposals for two whale sanctuaries that required a three-quarters majority to pass both were turned down.
An attempt by Australia and New Zealand to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific failed to win approval of the International Whaling Commission member countries by a vote of 24 to 17.
The opposition was headed by whaling nations Japan, Norway and Iceland. Japanese IWC representative Masayuki Komatsu said there is no need for a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific as most whale populations there are abundant.
New Zealand, which co-sponsored the South Pacific sanctuary for the fourth consecutive year, said it was disappointed Caribbean countries did not support a proposal backed by many Pacific island nations.
"We had more sponsors than before. We now have to encourage the list of countries committed to conservation to join this commission," said the New Zealand Minister of Conservation Chris Carter, who plans to offer the same proposal next year.
Argentina and Brazil were defeated in their bid to set up a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic by the same group of pro-whaling nations.
A proposal by Japan for a quota of 150 Bryde’s whales, despite the commercial whaling moratorium, for its coastal communities was defeated.
Japan submitted a proposal for a further 150 minke whales for its coastal whalers, which was also defeated. Every year since the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling took effect in 1986 Japan has submitted a proposal to take 50 minke whales to relieve the distress caused to coastal fishing communities by the moratorium. Last year, Japan announced that these 50 whales had been added to their scientific research whaling numbers.
Angry over the passage of the conservation initiative, Japanese representatives boycotted several IWC sessions this week. Japan’s whaling commissioner Minoru Morimoto said today that the anti-whaling position of the U.S. delegation to the IWC was disappointing.
"We are particularly unhappy at the attitude of the U.S. delegation," Morimoto said. "After receiving their quota for bowhead whales at the special meeting of the commission last October they have resumed an excessively strong position against Japan’s reasonable proposal for whaling to satisfy the needs of our coastal communities and our research programs that continue to provide valuable scientific information."
Conservationists are delighted with the newly approved Berlin Initiative that establishes a Conservation Committee. "Campaigners fighting for the survival of whales and dolphins around the world will remember Berlin 2003 as a historic turning point," said the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
Dr. Chris Tuite of IFAW, said, "This is a landmark decision for whales. After years of discussion about whaling quotas, we look forward to constructive discussion, research and the implementation of proactive measures for whale protection."
The new conservation committee will address threats to whales such as the impact of marine pollution, collisions with shipping, climate change and accidental bycatch in fishing nets. WWF, the conservation organization, reported last week that up to 306,000 cetaceans die in fishing nets around the world every year.
But 17 pro-whaling IWC member nations delivered a letter to the commission at the close of the meeting today that threatens to split the body in two. "We are deeply concerned that adoption of the Berlin Initiative which establishes a conservation committee will essentially destroy the already polarized and dysfunctional IWC," said the statement. They consider the Berlin Initiative "an attempt to change the fundamental objectives" and "an attempt to subvert the purpose" of the organization.
"The Berlin Initiative, together with the lack of progress in completing the Revised Management Scheme for the resumption of sustainable whaling, has provoked an increased interest in examination of alternatives that would provide for the sustainable use of abundant whale resources," the pro-whaling nations state.
The statement was signed by the IWC Commissioners from Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Dominica, Gabon, Grenada, Republic of Guinea, Iceland, Japan, Mongolia, Norway, Palau, Panama, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Senegal and Solomon Islands.
Iceland, a new IWC member that joined last year while reserving the right to ignore the global whaling moratorium, now proposes to take 250 whales a year under the scientific whaling provisions of the IWC treaty. The proposal was widely criticized this week in Berlin.
The UK Commissioner, Richard Cowan, highlighted the economic importance of ecotourism in Iceland and pointed to the likelihood of a serious backlash from tourists if the Icelandic whaling program goes ahead.
Dr. Tuite said, "Iceland is the best place in Europe to go whale watching and one of the best places in the world to see blue whales. The whales attract over 60,000 tourists a year. Icelanders should go whale watching not whaling."
Today, the UK group Campaign Whale and the German group Project Blue Sea held a demonstration at the Japanese Embassy in Berlin against the annual slaughter of Dall’s porpoise and other small whales by Japan.
Andy Ottaway of Campaign Whale and the Global Whale Alliance said in Berlin that over 300,000 Dall’s porpoises have been slaughtered during the moratorium and Japan has refused to supply any data to the IWC Scientific Committee so that this population can be assessed. In 2001, the IWC passed a resolution calling on Japan to stop this hunt, but the resolution has been ignored.