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So how was the IWC for you?

So IWC66 ends with a celebration of whale-themed ties, which, believe it or not, was won by a Japanese delegate. He was sporting a bright Moby Dick themed tie. so I guess that, as it’s a whaling themed tie, the individual concerned may be allowed back into Japan’s Far Seas Fisheries building where their whaling plans are hatched.

What I really appreciated was the coded comment of the Belgian delegate who noted that ‘some ties seemed to portray the density of whales before whaling and others after whaling’.


The joviality of the last minutes aside, this IWC saw some significant progress for whales and dolphins. I am not sure I can remember a meeting where the word ‘cetacean’, meaning both large whales and their smaller cousins, was mentioned instead of just ‘whales’ – underlining the role, and need, for the IWC to address the threats to all whales and dolphins. With many delegations celebrating the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the whaling moratorium, WDC and others were championing the fact that hundreds of thousands of whales are alive because of that very decision and a couple of lines in a document (the famous paragraph 10(e) of the IWC Schedule).

On the day that Japan and the Russian Federation finally cooperated to declare the Ross Sea a sanctuary at CCAMLR (the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Resources), these same countries this week at the IWC blocked a move to establish a South Atlantic whale Sanctuary. 

Why?, not because the science was bad, not because it actually affected their whaling (Russia still has an objection to the whaling moratorium by the way if you didn’t know), but because for Japan and her ODA ‘allies’, such conservation moves mean another brick in the wall of their ambitions to see the achievement of legally sanctioned commercial whaling.

Somehow I don’t think we have seen the last of this sanctuary proposal and WDC urges Brazil and the Latin American countries that have done so much work for this prize not to give up the chase – the whales need this sanctuary.

Whilst that may have seen the week start with a step backwards, the rest of the week saw several major leaps forward for whale and dolphin protection.

The adoption of the resolution on the critically endangered vaquita is an endorsement of the work of the Mexican government in their attempts to protect this diminutive porpoise. The resolution will hopefully help efforts to end the illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders and an end to the gill netting that is wiping out this highly endangered porpoise.

WDC was hugely pleased to see the adoption of the Chilean proposal on Cetaceans and Ecosystem Services. I am not sure the whalers really realise what this ground-breaking resolution means for the IWC and whales?

WDC had been pioneering the concept of the ecological whale with many delegations, having been pleased to introduce the concept at the ASCOBANS meeting of Parties earlier this year.

As noted by many delegations, we are only just beginning to realise that we don’t just like whales we actually need them. If we are to fight climate change and help bring this planet back into some state of ecological-security for our grandchildren, then we cannot afford to lose one whale, but we actually need millions more swimming in our oceans.

It was also great to hear the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) addressing the IWC meeting on the growing importance of our scientific understanding of the role social complexity and cetacean culture may play in future conservation efforts – music to our ears. 

When the USA and the European Union opened up their rhetorical big guns on Iceland and Norway, the two northern hunters were both surprised and rocked back on their heels by the attacks. Both countries had been sitting back, basking in the fact that Japan was receiving the most criticism, but this direct critique rattled them to the core. When Iceland tried to retaliate quoting their own scientists, their facts and science were systematically taken apart by the very eloquent IUCN representative. He not only corrected their misinformation, he also pointed out that the very mathematical formulas that they were using to self-calculate quotas for themselves were ‘unsafe’ by IWC standards.

reporte carne de ballenaWDC was pleased to make the IWC Commission aware that Japan was illegally exporting whale meat and I believe that this helped delegates decide that they needed to further clamp down on Japanese so-called Scientific whaling.

New Zealand and Australia, who had taken Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2014 and proved that its Antarctic whaling was illegal, have been leading the charge to ensure that the ICJ ruling is enacted in the IWC and successfully sponsored the resolution on improving the review process for special permits. It sounds a mouthful but it’s the foundation for an administrative nightmare for Japan going forward as it effectively wrestles control of Special Permits back into the Commission, allowing conservation countries a say on what the whalers propose. The ICJ was explicit in saying it was not enough that Japan could say that its whaling was ‘for science’, but it gave the opportunity to the IWC to exert its authority over this ‘pirate’ whaling and that’s just what the IWC has now done. Japan will be further legally exposed if it rejects the views of the IWC in the future; an IWC that has consistently voted against its abuse of the Convention in undertaken Special Permit whaling that everyone knows is thinly veiled industrial commercial whaling.

Whilst the IWC moved forward to prepare for new Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quotas in 2018, we were pleased that the new rules that the whalers wanted to slip through this year failed to be adopted. Yes, they edged some issues, but the battle is not over, and Russia and Greenland have already begun signalling that they expect to bring higher quota demands in coming years, but WDC will be prepared.

Whilst Japan’s allies failed to get a resolution on food security passed that was basically designed to mandate more whales dying, they were unable to stop the conservation countries passing a resolution marking the horrendous effect of mercury poisoning on cetaceans and the humans that feed on whales. This was another important step in building the case that we need to do more to mitigate against the impacts of human stupidity in dumping these, and other toxins, into the oceans and the stupidity of continuing to eat such contaminated whales and dolphins.

In the committees and corridors of the IWC, progress was made in advancing the conservation agenda. WDC was particularly pleased to see new initiatives on small cetaceans, action to have the IWC engage with bycatch and strandings, building on its excellent work on whale watching and environmental threats. WDC was honoured to address the meeting on the plight of the New Zealand Maui dolphin, the population of which has been reduced to no more than 63 individuals, and maybe much less. Whilst New Zealand is our friend when it comes to the whaling issue, WDC does not shirk from speaking truth to our friends, so come on NZ, make the necessary changes to bring this population back from the brink…its not that hard to do and you know it.

As a cynic, I may say that Japan had tried to pass a resolution that would have relieved it of some of its pressing ODA payments, but this eventually turned into a fund that will mean that the puppets that turn up to simply vote for Japan will have to participate in more IWC activities where they may ‘accidently contribute to conservation’ – who knows. They may even enjoy protecting whales and dolphins if they try.

I also have to add that it was a pleasure working with our colleagues in other NGOs across a range of issues. Some real unsung heroes.

So, all in all, not a bad meeting for the whales. You can see all the results of the meetings votes here and you may be surprised to see how some countries voted. Even some old friends of the whales seem to have had a yen to change their minds, but we can but hope that they see the error of their ways in the years to come.

Underwater close up of humpback

So, from all the WDC team, in Slovenia and around the world, our thanks for the support that got us here and our thanks in advance for your continued support that will allow us to build on these successes and meet the new challenges that lie ahead. The battle to protect these remarkable fellow creatures is not over, but together we can help make the world where they can be safe and free.

Thank you.