The International Whaling Commission (IWC) ended its annual meeting in Panama, with mixed results and dissatisfaction for many members.
Korea proposed to resume whaling for scientific research, which resulted in immediate protests from non-whaling nations and environmental groups. A small group of activists held a protest- dressing like whale researchers and pretending to slash a mock-up of a baby whale with a chainsaw and hammer. Laid in front of the mock-up were two cardboard crosses that showed the flags of South Korea and Japan.
Japan claims its hunts are for research purposes, although the meat from the killed whales ends up in restaurants, stores and school meals. Many environmental groups describe this ‘research’ as a front for commercial whaling.
Korean officials claim that the whaling would be aimed at studying the types and amount of fish whales eat, because fishermen are complaining that the increasing population of whales are consuming large amounts of fish, affecting their livelihoods. The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986 due to the threat of extinction for many whale species. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said the Minke whales that would be targeted in South Korea’s hunts are considered endangered by the whaling commission’s scientific committee. However, Seoul argues that the number of Minke whales in the North Pacific has ‘recovered considerably’.
In response to the Korean fishermen’s claim, Greenpeace argued that: “blaming whales for declining fish populations is like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation.” “Whales do not cause declines in fishing stocks; over fishing and mismanagement by humans do.”
Another issue presented was to create a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic; the proposal would put whales off limits to hunters in the Atlantic Sea, from the west coast of Africa to the east coast of South America. If created, this sanctuary would have joined up two existing whale sanctuaries in the Southern and Indian Oceans. Not surprisingly, the whaling nations of Japan and Norway voted against this and it was Japan and its allies that ‘shot down’ the proposal.
Japan pays support to less developed countries to vote in favour of whaling. These small countries admit to voting with the pro-whaling group because of the aid they receive from Japan; so the vote 38-21 in favour of the sanctuary could be seen as biased, as Japan uses bribery techniques. Other countries present at the meeting saw no need for another sanctuary, describing it as: “a feel-good, self-serving measure”. To pass, the proposal would have needed a three-quarters majority vote, which was not gained.
Japan was dissatisfied with the outcome of the meeting and threatened to leave the IWC if they don’t get what they want. Denmark also issued a similar threat, after the IWC rejected its request for a whaling quota for indigenous groups in Greenland.
This blog was researched and written by our work experience student Anna Clay.