By: Nick Engelfried
June 22, 2010
As member countries of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meet in Morocco this week, environmental groups warn that a proposal backed by the Obama administration could roll back hard-earned protections for endangered whale species. This proposal, which is currently supported by the United States, would legalize commercial whaling by some countries for the first time in over twenty years.
Though commercial whaling was officially banned two decades ago, countries like Japan, Norway, and Iceland have continued hunting for whales on a commercial scale. Norway and Iceland have not acknowledged the international moratorium on whaling, leaving the IWC powerless to control their whaling activity. Similarly, while Japan has chosen to recognize the moratorium, it continues whaling on a commercial scale under the name of “scientific whaling.” Japan also does not recognize the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which other countries have agreed should represent a permanent “safety zone” for whale populations. The US-backed proposal at this week’s IWC negotiations would legalize limited whaling by Japan, Iceland, and Norway. Supporters of the proposal argue legalizing the hunting of whales by these three countries would better enable the IWC to control whale catch quotas, and eventually reduce the number of whales killed each year.
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Environmental groups like Greenpeace counter that Japan, Norway, and Iceland have already flaunted international whaling laws, and that these countries cannot be counted on to obey any limits the IWC places on their whale catch. According to Greenpeace, the proposal would simply legitimize commercial whaling again, and tempt countries like China and Korea to seek approval for whaling programs of their own. “The IWC should focus on closing loopholes and actually clamping down on illegal commercial whaling,” states the website for Greenpeace USA.
Greenpeace activists have long been a familiar site at IWC meetings; the environmental organization has worked for decades to protect whales, and helped generate public support for the moratorium on commercial whaling. However other groups, newer to saving the whales, have also launched campaigns to preserve the whaling moratorium. One, an international progressive organization known as Avaaz.org is gathering more than a million names on a petition. The constantly updated petition list is still accumulating names, and Avaaz says the petition will be received in person by Australia’s environment minister. Enormous public support for the whaling moratorium has caused some countries to think twice about voting to legalize whaling.
Back in the US support for a continued ban on commercial whaling has also been growing, and has sometimes come from unexpected places. On Monday, June 21, seventeen US senators released a letter to the Obama administration, in which they urged the US to reject legalized whale hunting and push for a continued whaling moratorium. The lead authors of the letter were Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Carl Levin (D-MI). The letter warned that the proposal to legitimize some whaling would “set quotas that are not based on sound scientific principals, and reward those countries that have circumvented the moratorium by granting them exclusive quotas to hunt whales commercially.”
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As countries work to finalize their positions on the whaling moratorium at this week’s IWC meetings, it’s impossible to say how the final vote will go. However the move to legalize commercial whaling by Japan, Norway, and Iceland seems to have triggered a public outcry that has once again made whale conservation a matter of international concern.
Photo: Humpback Whale Breaching