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July 3, 2012

Day Two at IWC 64

Aboriginal subsistence whaling takes center stage

Humane Society International

  • A proposal by St. Vincent and the Grenadines to hunt four humpback whales, like those seen here, was passed on day two. Douglas J. Hoffman

  • HSI's Rebecca Regnery and Grettel Delgadillo are fighting hard for the protection of whales. HSI

by Bernie Unti

A package of three separate aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW) quotas for the United States, Russia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, grouped in one proposal, sailed through by a vote of 48 to 10 at IWC 64 on Day Two, in strong tailwinds generated by the United States government. The U.S. had done a lot of preliminary work to grease the skids for the bundled six-year ASW proposal, which sought no increases over previous levels for the three nations. Its passage saw many of the like-minded and Latin American bloc nations unhappy, though in the end, most were unable to withstand the inexorable pressure applied by the United States through various channels.

What controversy there was on Day Two centered on the annual quota of four humpback whales sought by St. Vincent and the Grenadines, where whaling has a foothold on Bequia, that nation’s largest island; and on Greenland’s independent proposal for an increased ASW hunt. While attracting a higher degree of scrutiny than in previous years, the proposal of St. Vincent and the Grenadines passed in part because it was tied to the U.S. quota.

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Many nations expressed a desire to vote separately on the bundled proposal, but to no avail. Faced with a gentle entreaty from the Latin American bloc to decouple the Bequia proposal from the other two, U.S. Commissioner Doug DeMaster stated the absolute determination of the U.S., Russia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines to keep the bundle together. And that was that.

Greenland, seeking an increased quota, will go at it alone. The Commission will determine the fate of its proposal later in the week.

Why the bundle?

For many weeks prior to IWC 64, the United States delegation strongly advanced and defended both the Alaska quota and the bundled approach, which it forged as part of a strategy to foreclose on mischief by Japan, which held the ASW quotas hostage at IWC 54 at Shimonoseki, Japan in 2002. Japan did so that year as part of an effort to see its small type coastal commercial whaling proposal approved, lifting the global commercial whaling moratorium.

At Anchorage in 2007, the U.S. rolled out the heavy artillery to get the five-year Alaskan quota, determined never to have a repeat of Shimonoseki. This year, it doubled down with the same goal.

A handful of countries spoke up against the bundled proposal and the St. Vincent and the Grenadines quota in particular. Whaling there is not a practice of the nation’s indigenous aboriginal peoples, as a native Bequian reminded the Commission in one of the rare opportunities provided for NGOs interventions. Moreover, as a new report from the Animal Welfare Institute documents, Bequian whalers, descendants of a Scottish immigrant, have repeatedly killed females with calves and committed other infractions, consistently failed to provide required information on humane killing and nutritional needs, and declined to provide photographic identification of whale flukes. Regrettably, the IWC has overlooked these deficiencies and renewed this quota six times in thirty years.

Who is killing most of the whales?

Together, the aboriginal subsistence whalers of the United States, Russia, and Greenland took several hundred whales over the course of the last year. For their part, Japan, Norway and Iceland kill more than 1000 whales annually. However, in 2012, when the International Whaling Commission is considering quotas for aboriginal subsistence whaling, which it does every five years, the major whale killing nations look to be off the hook. That’s just how they like it.

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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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