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IWC faces new frustrations in protecting whales

October 20, 2016 - SLOVENIA

The International Whaling Commission (IWC), the body charged with whale conservation and the management of whaling, meets in Portoroz to mark the 70th anniversary of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling and to contend with Japan's shrug after a ruling against it by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

A staple of the now biennial meeting is the call to give the IWC the ability to enforce rules.

The IWC appears to have no answer to the non-compliance of whaling nations. Norway and Iceland catch whales commercially either under objection to the 1885-86 moratorium on commercial whaling or with reservation to it, and Japan's scientific whaling programme is widely viewed as that country's way of circumventing it. Iceland is reported to be flouting the ban. Greenland wants to increase quotas for indigenous subsistence whaling, which conservation groups see as a back door to commercial activity.

Japan argues that the IWC should manage commercial whaling rather than ban it outright. A global moratorium has existed since 1986, but Japan kills hundreds of whales each year in the Antarctic and North Pacific under a special exemption for scientific whaling. The meat from the programme is sold as food.

Australia took Japan to the ICJ over the issue. The Court ruled that Japan?s whaling was not "for purposes of scientific research," and ordered the country to cease hunting in the Antarctic. Japan has indicated that it will modify its enterprise, but that whaling will continue.

The Convention was signed in Washington DC on Dec 2, 1946, with the purpose of "providing for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus [making it] possible for the orderly development of the whaling industry." Uncertainty over whale numbers led to the commercial whaling moratorium. Scientific whaling is one exemption. Whaling for aboriginal communities is another.

The indigenous subsistence exemption is a complicated and often touchy issue because the needs of aboriginal communities around the world differ widely, raising the question of whether rules for whaling by aboriginal populations are fair. The Commission sets the catch limits, as well as the terms for the sale of surplus whale meat.

The agenda will conclude with a look at tallies of cetacean numbers and a report from the IWC Scientific Committee meeting in Bled, in Jun 2016, on the wide range of non-hunting threats to the marine mammals. These include entanglement, ship strike, debris, climate change and other environmental concerns.


Japan plans to resume whaling next year (LA Times 14 Nov 2014)

Whaling commission agrees to anti-corruption reforms (DW 14 Jul 2011)

Pro-whaling nations to discuss IWC reforms (Sydney Morning Herald 14 Feb 2007)

Date written/update: 2015-10-30