Japan wins whaling vote by majority of one

Posted: 22 June 2006

This year's meeting of the International Whaling Commission opened in the Caribbean today amid fears that last year's slaughter of 2000 whales would be overtaken as Japan pressured smaller members of the Commission to vote for a return to legal whale hunting. This report is from Greenpeace.

Japan and the whaling lobby finally won a simple majority vote at the International Whaling Commission (IWC). 33 countries voted in favour of a resolution called the "St Kitts declaration" claiming that the "IWC has failed to meet its obligations under the terms of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW)" and declaring its commitment to "normalizing the functions of the IWC" - in other words, returning the organisation to its original hunting mandate.

The main thrust of the Japanese resolution focused on 'food security', in effect the idea that fish stocks are declining because whales are consuming too many of them. This spurious claim has no scientific basis, given that whales are an integral part of an ocean food chain which has had a stable existence for thousands of years until recently being upset by the real culprit - massive overfishing by humans.

"Greenpeace is disgusted that any member of the IWC would seek to promote whaling based upon the false notion that whales consume so much fish that they are a threat to food security for coastal nations, that a resolution has passed by a simple majority makes a mockery of the Commission in giving a dangerous lie a thin veneer of respectability," said Sarah Duthie, Greenpeace oceans campaigner.

In reality this declaration will change little or nothing as previous votes have already been taken and rejected attempts by the whalers to end any consideration by the IWC of protection for small cetaceans, a call to bring in secret ballots, a call for allowing Japan an exception to the commercial moratorium to hunt Minke and Brydes whales in its territorial waters and finally a resolution calling for an end to the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

The legitimacy of the vote remains in serious question. A number of counties have tabled serious reservations and disassociated them selves from the resolution.

Duthie continued "This is not so much a declaration but a whalers' wish list, peddling predictable and well rehearsed rhetoric, about cultural heritage, food security and poverty.

"During the last whaling season which ended in March, the five Japanese companies which own the Kyodo Senpaku whaling fleet divested their share to the Government's Institute for Cetacean Research. There is no commercial market for whale meat in Japan. The notion that whaling is vital to cultural heritage, food security and poverty is absurd.

"For millions of years fish and whales have coexisted quite happily. In recent years vast armadas of factory fishing fleets have collapsed global fish stocks. Drift nets, bottom trawling and long lines scour and devour everything in their paths. Blaming whales for collapsing fisheries is like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation.

Over the past decade whale watching has shown the potential to become far more profitable than commercial whaling ever was. It is already generating a massive $1 billion a year annually.

Globally, an estimated 9 million people go whale watching each year in 87 countries. This number has increased on average by 12 per cent annually since 1991 and looks set to rise. 34 member countries of the IWC now have a domestic whale watching industry. Iceland has seen an explosive annual growth of 250 per cent since 1994. Attracting 82,000 tourists a year and at a worth of $18 million, whale watching is far more valuable to the Icelandic economy than commercial whaling ever was.

Related links:

Dolphins and whales 'need more protection'

Whales still in troubled waters