No Respite for Whales

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) isn’t meeting this year, but the whales themselves are getting no break from whalers. Despite a ban on the international trade in whale meat, Norway received 14 tons of whale products from Iceland in February. That same month, Norway shipped four tons of whale meat to Japan. And in May, AWI exposed sales of Icelandic fin whale meat as pet treats in Japan (resulting in one Japanese company pulling the products from sale). In June, Iceland’s whaling company Hvalur, led by Kristjan Loftsson, resumed commercial hunting of fin whales—an endangered species. (See Spring 2013 AWI Quarterly.) As of this writing, Hvalur has already killed over one-third of the 184 fin whales it proposed to slaughter this summer.

Iceland, Norway and Japan all have formal exceptions to the trade ban, and the former two have similar exceptions to the ban on commercial whaling. (Japan’s whaling is conducted under a treaty provision allowing for “lethal research.”) Such killing and trade in whale products undermine the bans observed by all other parties to the relevant treaties, and U.S. law allows for strong actions against countries that undermine such conservation agreements. Calls, petitions and direct appeals by AWI and others to U.S. officials to act decisively, however, have largely fallen on deaf ears.

Despite apparent U.S. inaction, our advocacy community has had some measure of success—inducing the Dutch port of Rotterdam to refuse to transship whale meat and helping to get Japan-bound containers of Icelandic whale meat inspected in Hamburg and returned to Reykjavik. Much more could be done to save fin whales, as well as the minke whales that Iceland kills for commercial gain. For example, the United States could impose targeted trade sanctions on Icelandic products associated with Hvalur and its allied companies (a list of which we have provided to the U.S. government).

Meanwhile, Greenland, a territory of Denmark, has gone rogue—whaling without an IWC-approved subsistence quota. Greenland’s “subsistence” whaling is marred by widespread commerciality and high levels of wastage, as well as little accounting to the IWC of actual subsistence need. Yet, at the last meeting of the IWC in 2012, Greenland had the gall to ask for an increase to its usual quota—which IWC commissioners voted down. (See Winter 2013 AWI Quarterly.)

Instead of seeking approval for a reduced quota, Greenland has thumbed its nose at the international community by whaling anyway—putting Denmark in an awkward situation. Earlier this year, AWI met with officials from the Danish Embassy in Washington to discuss that country’s options. In July, Denmark announced its intention to withdraw from the IWC by year-end if an IWC resolution cannot be found. The simple solution is for Greenland/Denmark to propose a reduced interim quota through a so-called “postal” vote until the next IWC meeting in October 2014, when the issue can be resolved. AWI is appealing to the U.S. government to pursue this common-sense solution. We fear however, that in an attempt to keep the IWC intact, the United States may capitulate to whatever Greenland wants, thereby rewarding bad behavior and setting the precedent of asking for acquiescence after the fact, rather than obtaining prior agreement within the IWC.