Whales in a Sea of Trouble, Part I
We are in the final days before governments from around the world begin what are likely final deliberations about the future of whaling as an industry and, consequently, the protection of numerous populations of whales around the world, at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), in Agadir, Morocco.
Commercial whaling has historically devastated whale stocks. As recently as the 1960’s, as many as 70,000 whales were killed annually – that’s right, 70,000! The IWC, mandated with oversight of commercial whaling, was an abysmal failure as a regulatory body. Recognizing that it must modify its policies and oversight capabilities, a number of member nations succeeded in passing a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. The ban has proven to be an extremely effective conservation tool, decreasing whale hunting from about 70,000 whales per year to approximately 1,600 per year currently.
You’re probably thinking, “Fantastic! Our work is done here, what’s the problem?” The problem is, while the moratorium is effective, the treaty upon which is it based (called the International Convention for Regulation of Whaling) contains three fundamental loopholes.
1) It allows countries to take objections to decisions that they don’t like or agree with, thereby exempting themselves from abiding by those decisions.
2) It allows countries to leave and rejoin with a reservation– the equivalent of an objection – which exempts them from the provision.
3) It allows counties to undertake lethal whaling for so-called “scientific research” (also called “Article VIII whaling”).
These provisions have allowed three countries – Japan, Norway, and Iceland, which opposed the ban in 1982, to continue to defy it, and to increase pressure on the IWC by increasing their annual quotas of whales to be killed. The self-allocated quotas by these three countries, coupled with lack of monitoring and oversight, allegations of international “vote buying” and other fractious behavior has resulted in a solid wall of mistrust among pro- and anti-whaling nations and have made a mockery of the IWC. With member nations continually at loggerheads from everything from quotas to trade, the IWC is perceived as a cumbersome, dysfunctional body wracked by scandal and disgrace. Its integrity and efficacy must be restored… but by what means?