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July 5, 2012

Day Four at IWC 64: Dispatch #2

Greenland’s catch grab rejected, future quota uncertain

Humane Society International

  • Despite the refusal of its proposal for an increase in aboriginal subsistence whaling catch quotas for Greenland,Denmark may still choose to proceed with its hunt of humpback whales. Douglas Hoffman/www.douglasjhoffman.com

by Bernie Unti

Delegates at IWC 64 rejected Denmark’s proposal for an increase in aboriginal subsistence whaling catch quotas for Greenland, a Danish overseas protectorate. The proposal would have allowed indigenous people in Greenland to hunt up to 1,326 whales between 2013 and 2018—including 10 humpbacks a year. The other whale species involved include minke, fin and bowhead. The vote went 34 to 25 against the proposal, with three abstentions.

Denmark’s envoy Ole Samsing and Greenland’s Amelie Jessen seemed to disagree about next steps in the matter. In the absence of a quota, Jessen seemed to hint that Greenland might go its own way and carry on the whaling it wants to do, while Samsing told the assembly, "We will go home and reflect on what should be done as regards the future." 

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If precedent is followed, Greenland’s whalers will face a zero quota until such time as the Commission grants them a new allocation. 

No need

The need for an expanded quota in Greenland has become a contentious subject, as a joint report by the Animal Welfare Institute and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society underscores.  AWI reported that 77 percent of restaurants in Greenland serve whale, supporting the charge of many critics that the island is conducting commercial rather than subsistence whaling.

The United States backed Greenland’s request, dismissing concerns about the commerciality of the catch raised by many nongovernmental organizations and contracting governments.

Greenland’s request for an expanded catch also received the approval of the IWC Scientific Committee, which is charged only to determine whether the additional number of whales taken would harm the overall whale stock, and be sustainable, not whether the proposal is justified in respect to need. 

The Scientific Committee did raise concerns about the take of orcas in Greenland while reiterating longstanding concerns about the data Greenland provides.

Compromise discussions focusing on reduction of the Greenland quota broke down earlier in the week, setting the stage for today’s vote. Members of the Latin American bloc led the opposition, along with Australia, India, New Zealand, and many of the member nations of the European Union.

Ocean governance postponed but not denied

Monaco’s resolution concerning “highly migratory cetaceans in the high seas,” proposing that the contracting parties do more within other international bodies to advance cooperation for the conservation and management of marine cetacean species, ran into unexpected trouble when Japan, backed by St. Kitts and Nevis, played a procedural card to keep Monaco from calling for a vote on its resolution. The ploy didn’t kill the resolution; it just delayed a vote on it by 24 hours. Japan is strongly opposed to this resolution, as it doesn’t want the UN focusing on its whaling on the high seas.      

News, good and bad, on small cetaceans

Late on Day Four, in discussion of the Scientific Committee report’s findings on small cetaceans, many delegations affirmed their concern for the vaquita, devastated by the impacts of by-catch in gill nets and facing extinction.  In in an especially stirring plea for concerted action in the face of imminent and permanent loss of a rare and endangered porpoise species, Austria’s Deputy Commissioner Michael Stachowitsch stated, “We fear our assembly is about to be shamed.”

On a brighter note, Scientific Committee chair Debi Palka reported continuing progress and promise in regard to the initiatives funded by the Small Cetacean Voluntary Fund, which attracted 73,000 pounds sterling in contributions from governments and non governmental Organizations, including Humane Society International.

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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.

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