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June 18, 2010

HSI Opening Statement to IWC 2010

Humane Society International

Thanks to the generosity and welcoming spirit of the Kingdom of Morocco, the 62nd annual meeting of the IWC takes place in a magical country that is a true crossroads of cultural and diplomatic exchange, and one with deep ties to the ocean and its magnificent creatures.

Even now, though, as delegates meet in Agadir, so beautifully situated at the southern end of a long Atlantic coastline, a terrible ocean-based tragedy is unfolding about 4500 miles away, in the Gulf of Mexico, with terrible consequences for fisheries, livelihoods, tourism and the habitat of hundreds of marine-based species, including whales and dolphins.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster underscores the risks and the serious impacts of human activity upon the world’s oceans and their inhabitants. It also raises important questions about proper management of energy development projects and about IWC involvement in relevant environmental assessments. A similar disaster in the Arctic, a remote region with frigid waters and challenging conditions, would be truly catastrophic for whales and other marine mammals, and in that sense, among others, the implications of Deepwater Horizon hang heavily over this year’s proceedings.

Combined with the critically endangered status of the western gray whale population, which feeds in the oil-rich waters off Sakhalin, the continuing interest of energy companies in carrying out seismic work and possible development projects in Russian waters looks different this year. The Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (an IUCN group), which has done exemplary work on this question, will disband at the end of 2011, unless the IUCN renews its contract, something we hope that all of the member nations of the IWC will encourage.

Both the oil spill and the gray whale studies serve as reminders that the IWC as a body has important work, now and in the years ahead, that go far beyond the question of whaling. With whales under pressure from entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, ship strike, chemical and noise pollution, emerging diseases, and climate change, whaling could become the last straw for the survival of cetaceans worldwide. It is these concerns, and the need for management and research approaches that effectively address them, that promise to define the future of the IWC.

We remain confident that the IWC can overcome its most immediate challenges, but we do not believe that it can do so through the proposal being championed by the Chair and other parties. While interpretations of the proposal and its potential outcomes may vary slightly, on its face it will for all intents and purposes lift the commercial whaling moratorium for ten years, putting the great whales at the insufficient mercies of a few countries.

During this ten year period, the IWC will provide quotas to the whaling countries and allow the commercial sale of whale meat from these hunts. These quotas are not based on the scientific procedures established by the IWC's own scientists, but rather on political negotiations. Adopting the proposal will mean that the whaling countries can legally hunt whales, including threatened species, even in designated sanctuaries.

Furthermore, the proposal has no provisions to amend the Convention to remove opportunities that the whaling countries are currently using to allot quotas unilaterally, namely the ability to opt out of conservation measures using objections or reservations and for unrestricted lethal scientific whaling.

To compound the situation, this proposal will also require non-whaling nations to subsidize the whaling industries of whaling nations - none of which are developing countries. So instead of requiring those countries that will profit from whaling to pay for its regulation themselves, the nations that are opposed to whaling - many of which are developing countries that rely on non-lethal use of whales (such as whale watching) for income - will have to subsidize enforcement mechanisms, including observers, tracking systems, and reporting.

Lastly, as long as whaling nations hold reservations at CITES for the great whales, they cannot be prevented from legally trading whale products internationally. Sanctioning commercial whaling will stimulate the market for whale meat and products, something we cannot countenance.

In our view, the IWC should not adopt any proposal that forfeits the enormous gains embodied in the commercial whaling moratorium, the best conservation tool ever enacted to ensure the recovery of whale populations and prevent their future decline. Instead of negotiating a deal that would effectively end the moratorium, we would encourage countries that want to ensure the survival of the great whales to employ a broader range of diplomatic tools and engagement.

In this regard, we commend the Government of Australia for bringing a challenge against abuses of Article VIII at the International Court of Justice. We also commend Australia for developing the Southern Ocean Research Partnership, a project that injects much needed funding and infrastructure into a comprehensive research program to collect vital data from the great whales of the southern hemisphere. This program will use modern, non-lethal methods to provide the information needed by the IWC to fulfill its conservation mandate. It is the surest embodiment of a 21st century mandate for the IWC.

Conservation-minded countries should be pursuing every available means to convince the whaling nations that now is not the time to increase the pressure on whales with all the other threats they are facing and the continued lack of recovery of many species and stocks. Whales and other marine mammals are at serious risk in the world today, and we look to the IWC to step up and meet this great and worthy challenge.