Them’s Fightin’ Words!

If your impression of the International Whaling Commission is that of a hopelessly contentious, immature, Machiavellian theater of drama, then the final day of the General Commission of the 2011 International Whaling Commission did not disappoint.

The day began “promptly at 9:00 a.m.” – 9:40 a.m. IWC time – with a proposal by the Governments of Brazil and Argentina to establish the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, in accordance with Article (V)(1)(c) of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (“Convention”: http://bit.ly/o9zK9G).

Before I describe the details of the day and the impending scrum that resulted, I think it’s useful to provide details regarding the statements made by the 28 IWC member nations that provided comments on Brazil’s proposal – for context – and also to shed light on where your country stood on this very important stride in the direction of international whale conservation.  Whales don’t generally care much for the political boundaries we’ve delineated to distinguish international and jurisdictional waters, or non-whaling from whaling nations.  So it’s very likely that the whales you enjoy frolicking and breaching during holiday whale watching trips may be the same whales hunted and harpooned by whaling nations months later.  This is why we should all care about sanctuaries for whales – the “out of sight, out of mind” principle does not apply to international whale protection.

So, read on… it may help to have Advil or a cocktail handy.  The next post will describe what happened after the proposal comment period.

BRAZIL: “Brazil introduces the South Atlantic Sanctuary proposal, and hopes for consensus on the issue.  However, if consensus cannot be achieved, Brazil would like to suggest a vote on this proposal, which will very clearly express the position of contracting governments on the issue.”

ARGENTINA:  “Argentina fully endorses the non-consumptive use of whale resources, such as whale-watching.  We, like Brazil, have a long-standing tradition in non-lethal research.  The identification of Southern Right Whales project is now 40 years old, and contributes research to support the establishment of the Southern Atlantic Whale Sanctuaries.  The proposal encourages the development of responsible whale watching activities all along the perimeter of this region.  We have been patient over the years to find a consensus-based solution; we hope to have consensus now.  For the past five years, the Buenos Aires Group has brought forth this proposal.”

COSTA RICA: “We really support the resolution by our colleagues from Argentina and Brazil.  By approving this proposal, this gives a chance for whales.”

COLUMBIA:  “The government of Columbia supports the establishment of the Southern Atlantic Sanctuary.  This area has been most affected by commercial whaling.  It will be a tool for economic, cultural, and social development in very poor areas, particularly with whale watching and ecotourism to fight poverty in the area, and aiming at long-term sustainability.  The Buenos Aires Group hopes that the Commission can achieve consensus on this area.”

UNITED STATES:  “Our support for the whale sanctuary is unqualified.  The IWC should work toward establishing sanctuaries as necessary.”

AUSTRALIA:  “Our position on sanctuaries is well-known to ensure the recovery of whale populations; it’s a complementary measure to the moratorium, and Australia thanks the governments of other Buenos Aires Group countries for their support and patience over the years.  We’d like to see consensus on this issue.  We have established sanctuaries around our own Economic Zone to protect breeding grounds for our cetaceans, and recognize economic benefits, but the most important issue is conservation – sanctuaries have an important role, not only to the countries surrounding these areas, but to the whales.”

POLAND:  “Poland and other EU counties thank Brazil and Argentina for submitting this proposal.  We strongly support the conservation of whales and hope for consensus.”

MEXICO: “We do not understand why approval of this proposal wouldn’t be attained by consensus, just like the previous ‘Safety at Sea’ resolution.”

ECUADOR:  “The Government of Ecuador fully supports the proposal; it is very important for our country because it’s aligned with non-lethal use of whales and we recognize the importance of conservation and also the importance of economic development for countries in this area.”

PALAU:  “In May and September of 2002, a joint proposal to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Pacific was proposed by Australia and New Zealand.  Palau was not confident that whale populations in that area of the South Pacific was threatened, and therefore the sanctuary was not warranted on the basis of science.  We will also exercise our right to vote against the measure if it comes up for a vote.”

So much for the Pacific Way

AUSTRALIA: “Sanctuaries give protection for the breeding and feeding grounds of whales.  Australia’s views are in line with the comments submitted by Poland, on behalf of all EU states.”

HUNGARY: “Sanctuaries are one area of protection in the long-term conservation of whales.  HUNGRARY strongly supports the measure and hopes for consensus.”

CHILE:  “The Government of Chile thanks Brazil and Argentina for their presentation and defense.  This proposal gives us hope that this draft resolution will be adopted by consensus and we give our full support for the proposal.”

INDIA:  “Being the champion of all wildlife, and all cetaceans, we fully support the resolution and hope that the Commission can approve the measure by consensus and not by a vote and asks that Palau reconsider its position.”

RUSSIAN FEDERATION: “The position of the Russian Federation is very well-known on this issue.  It supports the creation of a sanctuary in areas needed on a case-by-case basis.  The proposal submitted by Argentina and Brazil was originally bundled as a part of the process of the “Future of IWC”, which was recommended to us to adopt as a package.  We do not agree on the establishment of global sanctuaries where the moratorium is enforced.  The Russian Government asks Brazil and Argentina to withdraw their proposal, lest they jeopardize progress on “The Future of IWC.”

PANAMA:  “Panama supports the proposal of a sanctuary in the South Atlantic, and associates its opinions with other countries in Latin America.  We consider that approval by consensus would be a step forward for the IWC, and do not agree with the Russian position.  We also believe that his resolution would be a significant advance for the IWC.”

URAGUAY:  We express our full support for the proposal as expressed by Brazil and Argentina.  We would like this proposal to be accepted by consensus, but if we have to go to a vote, I want to clarify that since my country will not be able to exercise voting rights due to lack of coincidence with other countries’ budgetary cycle, we will not be able to give our vote on the issue.  However, we fully support the proposal.”

GERMANY: “ We support the sanctuary proposal and hope that we can reach consensus on this item.”

ICELAND: I wish to recall that the proponents of this proposal were not anxious to advance this resolution under the “Future of IWC”.  We note that there is no scientific justification for the formation of a sanctuary in this area, and cannot support the proposal.”

NEW ZEALAND:  “The Government of New Zealand thanks the members of the Buenos Aires Group for their patience in putting this issue back on the table.  We call on all Commission members to work toward consensus on this issue.”

DENMARK: “On previous occasions we have exercised support for the formation of marine sanctuaries in certain areas.  I would like to note that the Danish Parliment has decided that Denmark should approve this measure.  Note, however, that  in the future, we will require more information from the Scientific Committee for the establishment of a sanctuary.”

ISRAEL:  “We fully support the proposal and hope that we can adopt the measure by consensus.”

MONACO:  “Monaco has expressed its full support whale sanctuaries for at least 12 years.  Scientific  research fully supports the reality of recovery of whale stocks in sanctuaries.  Monaco therefore unreservedly supports this proposal.  With regard to consensus, the question for us is, “how to deal with getting a majority in this way?”  I hope that wisdom, will overcome the reservations of those countries who have expressed their objection to the proposal by Brazil and Argentina.”

SWITZERLAND:  “I know about the importance of the whale watching industries to the people in that area and the importance of sanctuaries for the protection of whales.  However, it may take some time for the Commission to reach consensus.  Now I fear we have not enough time to fully discuss this issue thoroughly.  Therefore, I propose that we leave it open for another time.  WE don’t feel it’s possible to fully discuss the issue and achieve the consensus that we seek.”

SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS:  “We cannot accept the proposal ‘as is’, and reject the emotional response to a marine resource, given the importance of marine resources to island nations.  Sanctuaries should only be used in extreme circumstances.  This proposal is contentious in nature because it is not supported by science.   I support the views of Switzerland – we need to engage in a lot more discussion and debate before seriously considering this issue.”

PORTUGAL:  “We fully support the proposal and hope to pass it by consensus; we hope there is no need for a vote.”

SPAIN:  “Much time has passed since the original proposal was made in 2007.  At that time we didn’t have the information needed to pass the measure.  Now, we think it’s time for this proposal to be approved.  We hope for consensus and not for a vote.”

CAMAROON:  “We think, like the Russian Federation, that this topic has been part of the package started in Santiago, and we wish to keep this item open at this time.”

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One Comment on “Them’s Fightin’ Words!”


  1. Thank you so much for this detailed reporting. I’m stunned but pleased that Medina supports the proposal for a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. How about one for all US waters? Like around Alaska?


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