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July 11, 2011

IWC 63 Day One

UK's transparency proposal frames opening day of meeting

Humane Society International

  • A whale at the water's surface. jpa1999/istock

  • Professor Bloom's presentation. Rebecca Regnery/HSI

by Bernard Unti

Whaling has a feeble logic in the 21st century, but its cold political calculus is very much in evidence at IWC 63 in the Bailiwick of Jersey, an island tax haven in the English Channel whose financial institutions are rife with secrecy and corruption.

In the most sublime of ironies, a sticking point in deliberations over a United Kingdom proposal focusing on transparency and governance within the IWC has been the processing of on-site cash payment for dues and arrears by some of the nations in Japan’s pro-whaling faction. Some 20 member nations, a little less than a quarter of the whole, are currently in arrears.

The UK and other like-minded countries are insisting that dues and arrears should be paid by bank transfer alone, but unnamed nations in the Japan bloc have sought to scuttle the measure. The UK proposal also includes provisions to enhance overall decision-making processes, observer group participation, integration of the IWC Scientific Committee’s findings into the IWC’s overall deliberations, timely circulation of reports, and mechanisms for funding participation by developing nations.

Whale killing on the menu

Largely on the strength of a March 22-23 workshop on Whale Welfare and Ethics held in the UK, which drew together international experts in marine mammal science; ethics, policy, and legislation; and wild animal welfare, the question of whale killing methods received renewed attention on Day One. To further extend consideration of the topic, WSPA sponsored a luncheon presentation by Professor Donald Broom from the University of Cambridge, who shared his views about the general framework of practical and scientific considerations that should apply to the killing of animals.

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The question and answer session after Broom’s talk produced a reprise of last year’s highly charged exchange between Lars Walloe of the Norway delegation and Siri Martinson of the Norwegian animal group NOAH, debating the validity of Norway’s claim that 80 percent of the whales its fleet kills suffer no pain.

ASW quotas on the horizon

The issue of aboriginal subsistence whaling quotas, set to come up in 2012 at IWC 64 in Panama, is already looming large over the proceedings at Jersey. The United States delegation in particular has its eye on the delicate negotiations surrounding aboriginal whaling quotas and is working with ASW representatives on its delegation and their lobbyists to avert a repeat of the 2002 Shimonoseki episode in which Japan scuttled the ASW proposal, setting the stage for a fractious few years in which the ASW quota became hostage to Japan’s small coastal whaling initiative.

Under the sponsorship of the U.S. delegation, Eugene Brower of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association gave a presentation on the spring whale hunt carried out near some of Alaska’s coastal villages on the north slope.

The hot seat

The resolution of disagreement is the hallmark of modern diplomacy, and while there are undoubtedly more contentious topics and forums than the IWC, whaling, and global threats to cetaceans, it is also true that the IWC has derailed the career of more than one diplomat, and quite a few in recent years. Bravely, and with the support of all parties, South Africa’s Herman Oosthuizen, of that nation’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, consented to serve a term as chair. He was a consensus choice, and got off to a good start on Day One, leading the IWC through its Scientific Committee report and negotiating the challenges associated with the UK proposal, Japan’s anxiety over protesters outside of the venue, and dissatisfaction within the non-profit sector with the way that the IWC handles the participation of NGO observers in its proceedings.

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Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy advisor and special assistant to the CEO/president of The Humane Society of the United States.

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