June 25, 2009
With the fate of ten humpback whales in the North Atlantic in the balance, the IWC postponed a vote on a Denmark/Greenland proposal, reintroduced Tuesday after its rejection at IWC 60 in Santiago, Chile, last year. The Denmark/Greenland proposal is a thorny problem for the member nations of the European Union, who must vote together as a bloc, or not at all. Today, pockets of conversation involving EU delegates opened up all over the Casino Pestana hotel, as they sought a solution the EU countries could live with.
In the conference proceedings, however, delegates focused on climate change, whale watching, special permit whaling and other topics tied to the IWC's scientific committee report, as IWC Chair William Hogarth continued to encourage a nearly compulsory atmosphere of collegiality and harmony.
Watch, Don't Kill
Whale watching got a lot of play all day long, with the release of z new report on the industry from the International Fund for Animal Welfare presented by the Australian government. The publication celebrates the expansion and flourishing of whale watching worldwide. In 2008, IFAW's Whale Watching Worldwide estimates, 13 million people went whale watching in 113 countries, at a total expenditure of $2.1 billion.
Norway spoke for the pro-whaling nations struggling to come to terms with the booming profits of whale watching and the sharp contrast they provide to the grim reality of financially propped-up whaling programs in both Japan and Norway. “There is no contradiction between whaling and whale watching,” one Norwegian delegate suggested, “and they can live side by side.”
Indeed, in Norway, they do live side by side. Some years ago, whale watchers were horrified to witness the very animal they had been watching get harpooned by a commercial whaler.
And they would live side by side in the Southern Ocean, should Japan ever launch its threatened hunt for humpbacks, who are the principal attractions of a multimillion dollar whale watching industry involving Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific island nation of Tonga.
Japan's scientific research whaling program, carried out under special permit, came under attack when it came up as an agenda item in the afternoon. Many nations expressed their dismay with lethal research targeting whales, and challenged Japan to scale back if not to end such activity.
As it does every year, the Japanese delegation left it to Alternate Commissioner Joji Morishita to put lipstick on that pig, and he did so, laying emphasis on the arcane detail of scientific reports, measurements, vague affirmations of support by unnamed consultants, and other glittering generalities. It was a fitting complement to the lunchtime dog and pony show put on about the scientific whaling program by the Japan Fisheries Agency.
War is over
In the fall of 1864, the Confederate warship Shenandoah replenished its stores at Madeira, and set off on a worldwide journey to hunt down Yankee whalers, first in the Azores, then off the coast of Australia, and finally in the Arctic Ocean. In a little more than twelve months, the Shenandoah captured 38 ships, destroying 32 of them, and took 1053 prisoners. Cut off from the outside world, its captain and crew sailed on, continuing their attacks on American whale ships in the Arctic, knowing nothing of the fall of the Confederacy.
So it was that, not quite three months after the conflict's end, near the Aleutian Islands, the Shenandoah, which nearly wiped out the American whaling fleet in the Bering Sea, fired the last shot of the Civil War. Finally, in November 1866, the Shenandoah arrived in England, her captain turning her over to the mercy of the British government.
Today's commercial whaling nations, Japan, Norway, and Iceland, are also fighting a war that is over – the war of public opinion. They don't seem to know it, even at Madeira, the site of IWC 61. In a place where whalers once loaded up with harpoons and laid in their stores, it is the whale watchers who now thrive, and their backpacks, cameras, sunscreen, and water bottles which have displaced the bomb lance.
Like the Shenandoah before them, the commercial whalers sail on, oblivious to the realities of a world that has changed all around them, and continues to change. When will they come to port, and submit to the mercies of the broader community of nations? Millions of people worldwide are waiting to find out.
back to top