Sunday 25 April 2010

IWC Proposed Consensus - back to commercial whaling quotas?

On 1 March we reported that one of the proposals arising from the Small Working Group (SWG) on the Future of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) included a deal in which Japan would cease its 'scientific whaling' program in the Southern Ocean, JARPA II, in exchange for legitimate whaling quotas, despite the ongoing global moratorium on commercial whaling.

The Society's concern about such a whale-trading arrangement appears to have been well founded, following recent announcements from IWC officials.

The draft proposal covers whaling activities for the next 10 years, until 2019/20, with a mid-term review. As the agreements now stands, Japan would reduce its annual self-approved Antarctic take of up to 935 whales in stages - to 400 minke and 10 fin whales in 2010/11; 400 minke and 5 fin from 2013/14; and 200 minke and 5 fin from 2015/16. Humpback whales, although increasing in numbers, have not yet reached half their pre-exploitation numbers. There are also concerns about the populations of some specific Pacific Island humpback populations that feed in the Antarctic. Fin whales are considered to be endangered globally. The proposed Southern Hemisphere catch limits include no humpback whales, which Japan has been threatening to add to its JARPA II 'sampling'.

Commercial whaling would also be permitted in the Northern Hemisphere by Japan, Norway and Iceland. The deal could even include international trade. Catches would be allowed for Bryde's, minke and sei whales in the North Pacific, and fin and minke whales in the North Atlantic - 982 whales in all. Together with the Southern Hemisphere allocation, that's nearly 1,400 whales globally in 2010/11.

This is in addition to 437 bowhead, gray, fin, minke and humpback whales allocated to other nations by the IWC under the "indigenous subsistence" whaling category.

The proposal will be the key agenda item at the 62nd meeting of the Commission (IWC/62) which gets under way in Morocco on Monday 21 June, following meetings of the Scientific Committee and various sub-committees. In fact, two days of the week leading up to the meeting have been allocated to addressing the issue as well.

In essence the proposal has the effect of converting the whaling being conducted by Japan, Norway and Iceland, through "scientific permit", and "objection/reservation" loopholes, into valid commercial quotas. And while it is possible that the total numbers of whales taken initially might be fewer than those currently being taken subversively, the AWCS is in no doubt that it is the intention of whaling nations to work towards increasing the take as soon as it can, perhaps at the five-year review stage.

Interestingly, the IWC's draft proposal insists that "the (commercial whaling) moratorium remains in place" and that whaling under special permit (Japan) and under objection and reservation provisions (Norway and Iceland) will be immediately suspended. At the same time it proposes establishing "caps on whaling based on the prescribed catch limits". But what is an IWC endorsed catch limit 'cap' if not a quota, and therefore a breach of the principle and spirit of the moratorium?

The proposal does not represent a compromise; it is at best a backdown, at worst a sell-out.

One of the most revealing aspects of the trade-off would be Japan's agreement to reduce the number of minke whales killed in the Southern Ocean under its JARPA II scientific whaling program. Japan has for years insisted in the strongest possible terms that its so-called research program simply must take more than 900 minke whales each season in the Antarctic - that is the number that its scientists have declared absolutely necessary to conduct the study. Would Japan now compromise what it considers to be a critical scientific program, in return for the allocation of IWC quotas that would legitimise its commercial whaling activities? This is simply further proof that the scientific whaling research program has been a sham.

The draft deal includes the establishment of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, which Australia and other nations have been arguing for at IWC meetings during the past decade. While it would be gratifying to see the sanctuary finally in place, the actions of Japan in continuing to conduct whaling within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary every year since its adoption in 1994, demonstrates how ineffective any new sanctuary is likely to be in protecting whales from harpoons.

There are also provisions for inspectors, international observers, vessel monitoring and DNA market tracking, but these are needed to manage existing whaling activity and should not be conditional on the formation of a new agreement.

The proposal is not a done-deal. Official IWC statements acknowledge that there are still some strong differences of opinion and that "nothing is agreed until everything is agreed". But there are worrying signs that the concept is gathering support. One can only hope that Australia and its IWC allies hold firm against any agreement that would legitimise the commercial killing of whales.

Anyone wishing to urge the Australian Government to maintain its strong opposition to the reintroduction of commercial whaling, and to follow through on its promise to take legal action against the Japanese Government if it does not commit by November this year to end its Antarctic whaling activity, can contact the Australian Prime Minister or the Environment Minister by post or email:

The Hon Kevin Rudd MP

Prime Minister

Parliament House



Or complete the Prime Minister's email form at:



The Hon. Peter Garrett AM MP

Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts

PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600


Or complete Peter Garrett's email form at:


Dedicated to



education and