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July 6, 2011

HSI Opening Statement to IWC 63, July 2011

Humane Society International

  • A fin whale and calf break the surface for a breath. Adam Bennie/istock

  • Help save the whales! Klaas Lingbeek-van Kranen/istock

Humane Society International appreciates the generosity and welcoming spirit of the Bailiwick of Jersey, host to the 63rd annual meeting of the IWC. This year’s meeting takes place on a beautiful island surrounded by azure waters inhabited by magnificent creatures. With bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales frolicking just off its shores, Jersey is an inspirational backdrop for the meeting of an international organization charged with working to decide how best to ensure protection and conservation of the world’s whales now and in the future.

When the IWC last met, the United States was engaged in a full-scale effort to contain a tragic ocean-based catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, one with terrible consequences for fisheries, livelihoods, tourism, and the habitat of hundreds of marine-based species, including whales and dolphins. The near- and long-term impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, still unfolding, are a subject of great concern.

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This year, unfortunately, we convene in the wake of an even more catastrophic event, the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, and our thoughts, prayers, and support go out to the people of the island nation of Japan.

Together, these two disasters serve as a chilling reminder that, as a body, the IWC has important work, now and in the years ahead, going far beyond the question of whaling. Whales are under tremendous pressure from oil spills, radioactive contamination, entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris, ship strikes, chemical and noise pollution, emerging diseases, and climate change. Against that backdrop, the fact that whaling and continuing talks of deals dominate the agenda and resources of the Commission is becoming an impediment to the urgent necessities of the current moment, and an abdication of its conservation mandate. It is worse, moreover, that there are IWC member nations that continue to promote commercial whaling and international trade in the face of these significant threats, actions that are both regrettable and irresponsible.

The adoption of the moratorium in 1982 was a bold and necessary advance. Still, after 29 years, the IWC has yet to act as decisively for whale conservation. Nearly 30 years since its passage, the honoring of the moratorium by every nation should not just be the hope of citizens around the world, but the minimum expectation for IWC member governments.

There is no package deal for whaling on the agenda this year to distract or impede the Commission from addressing one or more of the myriad other threats bearing upon whales’ survival. Among other things, there is room at this meeting for environmental concerns to be aired, and approaches discussed, to effectively address them.

The agenda for IWC 63 in Jersey does include two proposals to amend the Schedule. One proposal is to create a South Atlantic whale sanctuary, while the other is to amend the commercial whaling moratorium and allow minke whales to be killed in Japan’s coastal waters. The first proposal we fully support, and we call on the Commission to endorse it. On the latter proposal, we demur, and we urge its withdrawal, with the hope that the proponent’s resources will now be directed elsewhere.

It is no secret that the work of the Commission has been hampered by many difficulties and challenges, over the years. We strongly support a proposal by the United Kingdom to improve transparency and accountability as the IWC has been plagued by a lack of both. However, the IWC is still the preeminent body for cetacean conservation and the work of the IWC’s scientific committee is unrivaled. There is a developing consensus within the world community at large, that whaling in the 21st century is biologically and economically unsustainable, and that whales deserve the fullest possible protection. It is certainly clear that whales’ future survival is dependent upon meaningful and enforceable protections right now. We look to the IWC to step up and meet this great and worthy challenge.

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