An attempt to overturn the decades-old global ban on commercial whaling has failed, to the relief of conservationists. Anti-whaling nations defeated by decisive margin proposals from the Japanese government that would have allowed for the return of whale hunts. The vote, on the last day of this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Brazil, was hailed by campaigners as a sign that pro-whaling nations will not be allowed to weaken global resolve to protect threatened species. Kitty Block, president of the animal charity Humane Society International, said, “It is an immense relief that the IWC’s moral compass has led it to reject Japan’s reckless and retrograde attempt to bring back commercial whaling. What Japan tried to do here was to bend and break the rules of the IWC to lift an internationally agreed ban on killing whales for profit. It deserved to fail; the world has moved on from commercial whaling, and so must Japan. We hope that the IWC can now get on with the business of protecting these ocean leviathans from the myriad other threats they face.” Nicolas Entrup of OceanCare added, “Resuming to grant commercial whaling quotas would consequently also lead to a removal of the international trade ban in products from those whale species, as both conservation instruments – the whaling ban and the trade ban – are interlinked. We cannot allow opening Pandora’s box to see whales killed in even higher numbers while being so close to phasing out this unnecessary and cruel activity. We are relieved that the IWC today prevented this dangerous blow to the moratorium.” Some observers suggested Japan could seek to leave the IWC, though this would be controversial. The vote, in which 41 governments defeated 27, also revealed a substantial minority of nations prepared to side with Japan. Many of these have no whaling interests of their own but have political allegiances with Tokyo for other reasons.
Earlier in the week, the meeting also rejected calls for a sanctuary for whales to be set up in the south Atlantic. Pro-whaling nations argued there was no need for it. However, the IWC at the meeting adopted a new declaration crafted by Brazil and named after the city of the meeting, Florianopolis, that restated the global commitment to the protection of whales and the ongoing need to push positive conservation measures beyond the longstanding moratorium. This is seen as a way to update the mission of the 72-year-old organisation to bring it further into line with modern conservation principles. Under the IWC ban, which has been in operation since 1984, no commercial whaling can take place – but there are a few loopholes. Norway and Iceland continue to defy the moratorium through technical objections, and Japan circumvents the ban by conducting whale hunts for scientific research. Russia also has a form of exemption from the ban that it does not exercise, and a few indigenous groups are granted rights for subsistence whaling. The ongoing tensions at the IWC demonstrate the difficulties of global conservation, even over iconic species.
Credit: Fiona Harvey for The Guardian, 14 September 2018.