Whaling and the IWC

International Whale Conference (IWC)- Alaska 2007
IWC 59TH annual meeting, Anchorage, Alaska – 28th – 31st May 2007

IWC Conference Report by Frank Future, Imagine Cruises Australia – July 2007

Frank Future a director of Imagine Cruises and secretary of Whale and Dolphin Watch Australia the national commercial whalewatch association, attended this years International Whaling Committee meeting in Alaska. Seen as critical to Australia’s Humpback whale watching industry, following is Franks report outlining the issues Australia is now facing with Japan intending to kill 50 of Australia’s Humpbacks this summer.

Frank Future International Whale Conference (IWC)- Alaska 2007″Firstly and most importantly Australia did not manage to save the 50 Humpback whales that remain in the firing line for this summers whale hunt. The Japanese delegation was up for a negotiation but they wanted a legitimate quota of large whales in their own coastal waters and no anti whaling country could agree to this. The request was presented as an Aboriginal subsistence-whaling quota justified by a long cultural history of whaling. It was seen by non-whaling countries however, as the thin end of the wedge and was the next step along the way for a return to commercial whaling.

As usual the whole IWC meeting became quickly polarized. No one really got anything they wanted and everyone went away frustrated and angry. With the exception of some indigenous Eskimos who get to eat whale meat again, even if it is becoming “stinky whale meat” (more about that later). It takes a while to understand the strange politics that hangs at the annual meetings of this venerable but outdated old organization. Set up in 1946 when most major economies including Australia were involved with whaling. The International Whaling Commission, an international treaty whose original mandate was to ” take responsibility for managing the worlds great whale populations for the orderly development of the whaling industry,” remains unchanged.

Whale watching of course didn’t exist in 1946 when the IWC was formed. Sadly, its rules would require a 75% majority of the IWC’s 70 odd members to change its original purpose into something more meaningful and current for the rest of the world. The chance of getting this majority is very slim as Japan attracts new members each year with offers of foreign aid in exchange for voting allegiance.

Whale watching as a legitimate and non-lethal user of Whales now enjoys a majority vote of member delegates and has a place within the structure of the meeting. It is however not recognized as anywhere near the main event of the IWC. Despite its global economic advantage over commercial whaling, it still only got 4 hours of discussion out of 4 days of meetings and Japan will forever try to remove it from the Agenda given half a chance. (Whalewatching is estimated by IFAW to be worth $2 billion Aus. worldwide vs $60 million for whaling).

Japan says it would like to return to commercial whaling. In the mean time they see it as their sovereign right to hunt whales with a self allocated scientific license. The issue is probably more a domestic political issue in Japan than the need to eat whale meat. Thousands of tones are stockpiled and despite it being given away in schools as hamburgers it still doesn’t seem to be catching on. There is also the national pride issue, standing up to the rest of the world brings the Japanese Nationalists behind the government so its all pretty complex.

Non-whaling countries as usual blocked a return to commercial whaling, as it too would need a 75% majority to lift the moratorium. Despite all the anger and posturing I am beginning to suspect that Japan might not actually want the commercial ban lifted. After all, if it were, they would probably have to compete with the South Koreans, Chinese and Russians and possibly Norwegians and Danes too. At the moment they have it to themselves. Information has now been confirmed that Japan is building another mother ship and catcher boat and is happily awarding itself scientific quotas on any species they want despite the large stockpiles of unsold whalemeat.

The awarding of subsistence quotas for native Indians that largely live within the Arctic Circle took up a vast amount of IWC time. A report from the scientific committee included the emergence of a potentially catastrophic toxic condition known as “Stinky Whale” almost certainly resulting from some form of pollution. Walt Parker, the highly respected Chairperson of The Arctic Council an Intergovernmental Federation studying the Arctic and the affects of Climate change has suggested that power generation emissions from mainland China were now proven to be changing the top 2mm of oceanic water in the North Pacific. Consequently the entire nature of everything living in this stratum is being affected. The “Stinky Whale” condition is now not exclusively a whale problem, showing up in different types of marine mammals including Walrus and various seals. The stinky whales can’t be eaten as the bitter flesh apparently makes people sick and break out in sores.

Another rather surprising admission by the IWC Chair of the Scientific Committee was that they had no idea why original estimates of Minke whales in the Southern ocean were now half that of previous years. The noticeably embarrassed scientist when talking about stock abundance (all based upon figures drawn from the Japanese “Whale research fleet “) noted that previous hunts had estimated the population of Southern Ocean Minkes to be around 760,000. This population is now thought to be less than half that amount. He offered that although they didn’t know for sure, it might be attributable to the Humpbacks eating all the Krill thus causing the depletion of the poor old Minke. Ironically it was only two years ago the Minke was referred to as the Cockroach of the sea by the Japanese delegation.

Where to from here? Countless polls taken in Japan indicate that most Japanese people do not share their Governments view on whale killing. Japanese visitors on whale and dolphin watch boats in Australia are amongst the most vocal and emotional when it comes to Whale and Dolphin watching and we now need to appeal to the ordinary person in Japan. The Internet is a brilliant tool for this especially because most kids don’t watch the news or read newspapers but they do log on.

The two young Aussie teenagers Teens Against Whaling proved that popular support exists in both Australia and the US. In fact many of the 40,000 signatures handed to the IWC were from people all over the world. Collected in just a year, they were just a fraction of the million or more folk who went whale watching in Australia last year.

Petitions like the one on the Teens site are very affective media tools.

14 year old Skye Bortoli her 8 year old sister Caitlyn and 17 year old Ayesha Future (read her report…) supported by Skye’s mum Monique did an incredible job and helped focus the issue both in Australia and overseas. It was a brave act to wheel a barrow of 40,000 petitions into the IWC Chairman surrounded by the world’s media and speak about the rights of whales in front of Australia’s environment minister Malcolm Turnbull. Getting Aussie kids to engage the Japanese and our own PM is going to be the key to saving the whales over the next year.

The Sister Cities program that many Local Governments have adopted for the purposes of cultural exchange and mutual networking is one where direct dialogue can be brought up about the issue. Marine mammal scientists Wally and Trish Franklin together with Artist and Byron surfer identity Howie Cooke created the Iconic Whale program. More than 27 Coastal Councils along the east coast of Australia have now adopted a Humpback whale as a mascot including Byron bay, Hervey bay, Port Stephens, Newcastle and Sydney. The program has now spread to the West coast of Aus via WADWA president Steve Mitchell and more recently New York heard about the whale adoption program and wants to apparently have a whale mascot too!

There is little doubt the average Japanese person does not want Australian’s to see them as cruel or vindictive and whaling is most certainly cruel. It is also hard to see it as anything but vindictive when the whalers have chosen a specific population of whales that we enjoy and see as ours by their birthright. The first picture of a dead Humpback sliding up onto the flensing deck of the Nishon maru is bound to cause some deep resentment at a time when our PM and his Japanese counterpart are signing friendship agreements and trying to open up trade concessions.

“These are our whales” as 14 year old Skye Bortoli eloquently points out when she says “the first thing these whales see at birth is Australia’s coastline and if anyone has the right to determine their future it should be us.”

Our $85 Billion mutual trade interest is one our current Government doesn’t want to threaten but despite Malcolm Turnbull’s valiant efforts and he did work hard at it, Japan still hasn’t heard us and I think our PM should let his counterpart know that that this issue will cause some bad feelings between our two countries. Whale watching is a $300 million plus industry to Australia and just like the Japanese whaling industry, whale tourism has become an important employer to many coastal regions on both the east and west coast.

We all need to engage our government and insist that the PM makes this a priority issue with his Japanese counterpart, with letters and emails and keep the petition going”

Cheers Frank Future Sec. WADWA

  • View photos and read more about the International Whale Conference (IWC)- Alaska 2007.
  • Read Ayesha Future’s report on whaling and the IWC and learn more about teensagainstwhaling.
  • Contact John Howard the PM of Australia about whaling…
  • Visit the International Whaling Commission’s website.

Whale and Dolphin Watch Australia Inc.

The Australian national association of commercial whalewatchers has now opened its doors to all operators, individuals, scientists and business owners who share in this nature based business. Once a boat operator only association, WADWA is now encouraging any person or company that makes money from living whales and dolphins to join in and help create a stronger voice to protect the whales for future generations. WADWA always tries to be represented at the annual International Whaling Commission conferences.

For more information about joining this national association contact Frank Future the WADWA secretary or call directly on 0412 689 798.