For the first time since 1986, countries in favor of whaling will likely be in the majority at the International Whaling Commission
By Stephen Pincock | June 7, 2006
For the first time since a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling was passed twenty years ago, pro-whaling nations are expected to dominate the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) later this month.
The IWC is holding its plenary session from June 16 to 20 in the Caribbean island state of St Kitts and Nevis. In the past month, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands and Cambodia have joined the commission, bringing its total membership to 69.
Whaling experts contacted by The Scientist said the Marshall Islands and Cambodia were likely to support the pro-whaling stance of Japan at the meeting. The expected outcome is that countries in favor of the practice will slightly outnumber those countries opposed to the practice, including the USA, Britain and Australia.
?If it wasn?t for a bit of sloppy organization last year, Japan would have already had a simple majority,? said Peter Harrison, director of Australia?s Southern Cross University Whale Research Centre. ?They probably will have a simple majority this year.?
A simple majority is not enough for Japan and its supporters to overturn major issues such as the commercial whaling moratorium. Those changes would require a three-quarters majority to pass.
But it is enough to allow them to push through formal resolutions or statements, or to change the agenda of the meetings. For example, Japan may propose a resolution supporting research whaling.
?It?s obviously a mark in the sand, the fist time that there is a majority in favor of whaling,? one source close to the IWC told The Scientist. ?We don?t know what the result will be.?
In late May, Australia?s Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, visited the Marshall Islands as part of a trip designed to strengthen support for Australia's stand on whale conservation.
"This year's IWC vote is crunch time for the future survival of whales and every vote will be critical,? Campbell said in a statement. "I have been working day and night through a range of international channels to pursue a permanent global moratorium on commercial whaling and an end to scientific whaling.?
A spokesman for Campbell told The Scientist that the minister had ?very productive discussions? with Marshall Islands officials. ?They were very interested in hearing the minister?s views,? he said. ?But they were still in the process of formulating their positions on various issues.?
In the long term, the changing composition of the commission could have wider ramifications. It may be that countries with marginal opposition to whaling will decide not to attend future meetings now that the pro-whaling camp is in the majority, the source close to the IWC said. On the other hand, their ascendancy could encourage anti-whaling countries who have not yet joined to become IWC members.
The moratorium on commercial whaling was passed by the IWC in 1986. Japan stopped commercial whaling that year, but since 1987 has been killing whales for scientific research.
Last year, the country announced that it would dramatically increase the number and variety of whales it killed each year, sparking international outcry. The country says its whale catch is needed for research?a position refuted by scientists elsewhere.
Killing whales does not help fill any of the current gaps in scientific understanding of cetaceans, said Nick Gales of the Australian Antarctic Division. ?There isn?t any case for killing whales any more,? he told The Scientist.
A spokesman for Japan?s Far Seas Fishery Division could not be reached for comment by deadline.
Links within this article
International Whaling Commission 2006 Meeting
IWC: Latest news
ABC radio: Aust lobbies Marshall Islands over whaling vote, May 31, 2006.
S. Pincock, ?The scientists and the whales,? The Scientist, March 2006.