Science? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Science!

I cringe when I hear people claim to know all about the IWC and its antics, because after all, they’ve seen The Cove.  Though the film rightfully targets the lowest hanging fruit to illustrate the organization’s absurdity, the IWC is incredibly complex and nuanced, and yes… there is something good – actually exemplary – that comes out of the International Whaling Commission.

Without question, the General Commission is dysfunctional and gridlocked; but the reputation and work of the IWC Scientific Committee remains beyond reproach.  Comprised of the world’s most highly-regarded marine biologists and scientists, the IWC-SC provides sound research and appropriate context to the politicians, policy makers, conservationists, and NGOs like ACS, who seek their objective counsel.

For this reason, it was especially disappointing that, as a result of the Commission spending the final day of the meeting killing the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary proposal, Chair Oosthuizen was forced to ‘bundle’ several reports from the IWC-SC – including environmental and health issues; conservation management plans; whale watching, and Conservation Committee – without a nanosecond of review or comment by the Commission in the interest of time. No doubt, this was a calculated casualty on the part of pro-whaling nations to stave off discussion of whale conservation initiatives, needs assessments, and “non-consumptive use of whale resources.”  These issues barely move the needle on the “Sustainable Use Group” care-o’-meter.  Japan and its minions scored a victory for their efforts, and whales took one for the team…


But even this didn’t top the list of “Things that make you go, ‘Hmmm…’” at IWC.

No, by far the least awesome moment was when the Chair congratulated the Commission for its stellar effort to bridge differences, negotiate in a spirit of goodwill, and ensuring a productive meeting.  The Commission then joined in a round of self-congratulatory applause and the meeting was adjourned.

Umm…. What?  Clearly, my standards (and probably those of most people) for cooperation, professional courtesy, and productivity differ significantly from that the IWC Commission.  Try running a business a la IWC – you’d fold in a week – and make a lot of enemies in that short time, too.

For all the hand-wringing and eye-rolling during the course of the day, one very good thing happened for cetaceans in the moments before the close of the 2011 meeting.  Commissioners Jean-Phillipe Gavois (France) and Plinio Conte (Italy) announced that they would be contributing to €15,000 and £25,000, respectively, to the Voluntary Fund for Small Cetacean Conservation Research, which will enable full funding of the proposals selected this year and future research proposals to be brought forward.  The Fund was £45,000 short of ‘full funding’.  The American Cetacean Society was also officially recognized for its contribution to the Fund.  I only lament that more IWC contracting governments didn’t offer to contribute to this critical resource.

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