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June 23, 2010

IWC 2010: Day 3 Dispatch

Pro-whaling proposal fails, but whales aren't safe yet

Humane Society International

  • Advocates are making a difference. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

by Bernard Unti

This morning, the delegates of the International Whaling commission set aside a contentious proposal that promised to lift the global moratorium on commercial whaling in an attempt to entice the whaling nations to reduce their killing.

After two days of intensive discussion, the delegates also declined to take up or endorse any of the several amended versions being circulated at IWC 62 by member governments and a few nonprofit organizations. The IWC isn’t expected to vote on any of these plans this week, and the working group that produced them will likely be dissolved.

HSI was highly critical of all of these plans, primarily because not one of them met our bottom line—the preservation of the global moratorium on commercial whaling. Our organizational history on this issue is one of steadfast support for the moratorium, and tough vigilance in its defense.

As a body, the IWC needs to seriously address breaches in governance issues and other reforms. We’ve been saying for a long time that the IWC is not broken, but purchased, and the stories coming out in the days just prior to IWC 62 put this aspect of the whale conservation battle onto the global political agenda in an unprecedented way.

The world community must now confront Japan’s longstanding pattern of corrupting the deliberations and the decisions of the IWC (and, it would seem, CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) by offering secret side deals to vulnerable developing nations and their IWC representatives. Transparency and healthy governance at the IWC is essential not simply to the protection of whales but to the strength of the international political order. It’s just not right to stand by while an otherwise advanced nation stoops to the lowest level of graft and corruption.

Today’s outcome at IWC is not a victory in the strictest sense, of course, because whales are still hunted and bedeviled by a serious welter of other threats, most of them human-induced, and each of which takes its own heavy toll upon whales, year after year. We stopped Japan’s efforts to further commercialize whaling, but its whaling fleet is still going to be out there killing whales and we must redouble our efforts to stop that. We need to move forward now to promote reform, transformation, and the advancement of a true and robust whale conservation program at the IWC. Let’s not forget that in a better moment, this is the body that approved the global moratorium on commercial whaling a quarter century ago. That was a magnificent achievement, and it’s something to build upon.

More broadly, we need to work on ways to ensure that the tremendous public support for whales and other cetaceans gets meaningfully translated into public policies to help them, policies that address the urgent conservation actions that need to be taken, policies that support the development of scientific and technical knowledge concerning whales and the threats they face, and policies that guarantee their protection against any and all political threats, like those we fought off this year at Agadir. We stood together, and we stood tall for whales.

Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy adviser and special assistant to the CEO/President of The Humane Society of the United States, and a Humane Society International delegate to the IWC.