June 25, 2010

The Whales Win – For Now

At the recent meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)  in Morocco, members spent two days discussing a “compromise” that would allow whaling nations to legally hunt whales for the next ten years, thus overturning a ban on commercial whaling that the IWC put in place almost 25 years ago. Despite the ban, Japan, Norway and Iceland have continued to kill whales using exemptions and loopholes. The three whaling nations have killed over 28,000 whales since 1986.

The purpose of the compromise was to cut the amount of whales killed to 200 by the end of the ten-year plan, with the hope that Japan will eventually be moved to end their whaling.

The compromise, supported by a group of nations led by the United States as well as organizations like Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the PEW Environment Group, was not much of a bargain for whales.

The fact that a compromise was a possibility is disheartening to say the least, and that environmental groups and the Obama administration supported it is even more distressing. Despite a 24-year ban, governments and organizations are losing their will to hold Japan – as well as Iceland and Norway – accountable according to laws already on the books.

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was founded in 1977 as a nonprofit marine wildlife protection and conservation organization. Sea Shepherd, supported by the United Nations World Charter for Nature, is the only organization in existence taking on the challenge of enforcing the ban on commercial whaling. In 1994, the IWC created the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in the Antarctic to provide a safe place for whales. For the last six years Sea Shepherd has gone to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary to oppose the illegal whaling activities of the Japanese whaling fleet and protect ocean ecosystems.

Japan has used a loophole in the original 1986 ban that allows a certain number of whales to be killed for “research” purposes, but this is not the only law abused by the Japanese government. Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson spoke with me about the recent developments at the IWC conference and the current situation in Japan.

“Japan has been putting unbelievable pressure on smaller countries for years. They threaten them by withholding economic aid and through bribery. With larger countries like New Zealand and the United States, it’s just lobbying. They tell them that they’re never going to stop whaling so [the U.S.] might as well compromise if it wants to save any whales. It’s like compromising with bank robbers and drug dealers. What they are doing is a crime. The solution is to enforce the laws that already exist. Because they are a big powerful nation, they seem to be above the law.”

Doris Lin, who writes the About.com Guide to Animal Rights, has been doing wonderful work covering Japan’s pressure on the United States as well as bribery of smaller nations.

In her article on bribery, Doris writes, “Japan offered promises of financial aid, cash bribes and call girls to St. Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea and Ivory Coast and their representatives. These six nations have no interest in whaling, but joined the IWC as Japan’s behest, and their votes count just as much as those by the other 82 IWC member nations.”

As for the U.S., the Bush administration struck a deal with Japan to get support for whaling by aboriginal peoples in the U.S. This was Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens’ baby. The question is why would Obama stick by this deal? (Maybe the larger question is why is Obama upholding many of Bush’s policies? Another article, I suppose.)

Another strange bedfellow in the compromise deal is Greenpeace, which Watson co-founded before he left to start Sea Shepherd.

“I was quite surprised to see Greenpeace support a proposal that would bring back commercial whaling. They said in their points that the conditions they wanted in the proposal was whaling has to be for domestic use only, and no endangered species can be killed. That implies that it’s okay to kill whales if they not endangered or if it’s not sold for export. Now they are trying to get out of it and say that’s not what they meant, but Greenpeace made a very dangerous gamble in order to be seen as cool with the World Wildlife Foundation and PEW Foundation.”

The key loophole Japan has been using is claiming they kill whales for scientific research, although no paper of any validity has ever resulted from their whaling. Recently two former Japanese whalers told the Australian Broadcasting Company that whales are in fact slaughtered for high-priced meat.

“There is no scientific research. When a whale comes up the slipway, it’s processed and in boxes within an hour,” said Paul. “This is not science. The entire operation is run as a commercial activity – it’s mass production. If there is any research being done it’s market research and product development. Between 1915 and 1988 there was a total of 951 whales killed for scientific research worldwide. Since 1987 there have been 28,000 whales killed. Fifty years ago we didn’t have biopsies and computer models. There is nothing you can learn from killing whales that you couldn’t learn from modern techniques.”

This season, Sea Shepherd continued its mission in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. It was their most successful campaign yet in terms of the economic impact on the Japanese whaling fleet.

Paul said Sea Shepherd saved 528 whales this year in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. “This year, the Japanese whaling fleet targeted 935 Minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpbacks as well. They took zero humpbacks and one fin. This is the first time we saved more than they killed. When they were talking about the compromise plan of cutting the whaling numbers by half, that is what we’ve accomplished the past two years anyway.”

The whales are safe, for now. The compromise failed, marking a temporary victory for whales.

“We were opposed to the compromise from the beginning and we are quite happy that it failed. It got down to horse-trading: let us do this and we’ll allow you to do that. We believe that no whales should be killed by anybody for any reason anywhere. Everybody seems to ignore the fact that they are taking these whales in an established international whale sanctuary – the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. That’s a violation. Fin whales and humpbacks are on the quota and are endangered species. That’s a violation. They are also in violation of the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits commercial activity south of 60 degrees latitude. There are numerous violations. As long as they are targeting endangered whales, they are in violation. They are taking whales from an established international whale sanctuary. What is it about the word ‘sanctuary’ that people don’t understand?”

Sea Shepherd Conservation Society needs volunteers onshore and at sea, and your donations are valued.

Paul Watson “Sea No Evil” event – Part I

Paul Watson “Sea No Evil” event – Part II

Paul Watson at “Thanking the Monkey” book release party

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