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July 6, 2012

Day Five at IWC 64

IWC meets, votes, and progresses

Humane Society International

  • Panama City hosted the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. HSI

  • Advocates organized a demonstration to show their support for whales on the eve of IWC 64 in Panama. HSI

  • This inflatable whale, brought by pro-whale advocates, was sure stand out among the crowd. HSI

  • HSI's Rebecca Regnery, Grettel Delgadillo, and Bernie Unti also took time to show their support for whales. HSI

by Bernie Unti and Rebecca Regnery

With its most volatile business having been completed earlier in the week, and with the exception of some continued jousting over Monaco’s proposal on “highly migratory cetaceans in the high seas,” the International Whaling Commission spent Day Five on routine discussions on administrative matters.

After an eventful week in which the body took its first votes since IWC 60 in Santiago, Chile in 2008, both the pro-and anti-whaling factions could claim some successes. The real winner was the IWC itself, however, which held together, transacted business, carried out votes, and took further steps to improve its operations and processes. The week saw less talk about the IWC’s future, and more actions taken to secure it. Switzerland’s Commissioner Bruno Mainini chaired, and keeping tight control oven the proceedings, successfully guided the delegates through a lengthy agenda.

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Monaco withdraws its proposal, not its vision

In the end, Monaco   withdrew its proposal to seek alignment of IWC’s conservation work with that of the United Nations. Instead, delegate Frederic Briand stated that he would pursue the initiative via an intersessional task force to allow for exchanges with nations interested in “establishing proper synergies with United Nations processes,” as he put in his final remarks. Thus he circumvented further delays in addressing small cetacean conservation through cooperation between the IWC and the UN.

USA disappoints on aboriginal subsistence whaling

With its Alaskan communities hunting bowheads, The United States is itself a whaling nation, a reality that has particularly complicated effects whenever the IWC takes up aboriginal subsistence whaling quotas as it does every five (and now six) years. This time around the U.S Delegation took a hard line in supporting all ASW quota requests in every particular, and in bundling its own quota request with that of St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

By such determinations, the delegation put the United States on record as supporting expansion of a Greenland hunt that has become conspicuously commercial in its character, with restaurants serving whale meat to tourists. Furthermore, it placed itself and numerous honorable, conservation-focused nations in the position of upholding the four humpback whale quota of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is a brutal hunt in which mothers and their calves are targeted with handheld harpoons that rarely kill instantly, the whales dying slowly and painfully before an assembled throng.          

Unfortunately, the U.S.’s poor handling of the Greenland and St. Vincent hunts obscured its strong performance in regard to general conservation measures and transparency.

Non-governmental organizations and their input

It was a good year for participation of nongovernmental organizations. It may have been the best year ever in this regard, or at least in as many years as most of us can remember. Under the principled chairmanship of Switzerland’s Commissioner Bruno Mainini, there were a number of interventions permitted in connection with resolutions and topics coming before the Assembly.  Non-governmental entities make tremendous contributions to the work of the IWC, providing information and service to its committees, helping to fund core initiatives, and strengthening its conservation mandate.

Let’s do it again, in two years

In a consensus vote, the IWC delegations took decisive action for the future of the body, choosing to adopt a biennial meeting Schedule. This will certainly result in cost savings, while its other implications will become evident only in the years to come.

All told, the IWC gained some true momentum this year, leaving more than a few participants hopeful about the prospects for progress in conservation and preservation of cetaceans and their ocean habitats in years to come.

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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, and a Humane Society International delegate to the IWC.

Rebecca Regnery, HSI's deputy director for international wildlife, has worked extensively on campaigns to protect whales, sharks, sea turtles and other species at the IWC and other international forums since 2001.

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