AWI's Opening Statement for IWC 64

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Opening Statement of the Animal Welfare Institute to the 64th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission

The 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) constitutes a challenge. A challenge to Contracting Parties to overcome the difficulties that led to the disruption of the IWC’s 63rd meeting. While that meeting ended in disarray, there was progress made by the IWC in Jersey, British Isles given its decision to revise and update and modernize its operating procedures and practices. Many have suggested that the IWC is dysfunctional, that it is at loggerheads, that it can’t effectively conserve or manage cetaceans, or that it is broken. AWI does not concur. While its actions, or lack thereof, are often frustrating and the internal politics hinders conservation efforts, the commercial whaling moratorium has been a significant accomplishment saving tens of thousands of whale lives.

In addition, the Scientific Committee continues to engage in stellar work on a number of important issues related to cetacean biology, ecology, habitat, and threats to all species, large and small. AWI applauds the Scientific Committee for its continued commitment to study cetaceans, their habitats, and the threats to both. Yet, the time has come to end those studies—implementation reviews—intended to develop commercial whaling quotas or standards. Commercial whaling has been banned for decades and it will never resume. The many Contracting Governments that supported the moratorium and that steadfastly oppose commercial whaling must demand that those funds they pay to the IWC are never used to allow or even set the stage for commercial whaling.

Nevertheless, despite the advances of the Scientific Committee, whales continue to be killed for commercial gain, often disguised by science or contrived as subsistence. Neither is acceptable and efforts must be made, within and external to the IWC, to end these practices that are inconsistent with global public opinion, inherently cruel, and for which there is no justification. While we recognize that there are some subsistence groups who have a legitimate need to whale, subsistence, not profit must be the primary motivating factor. Though the current definition of “subsistence use” permits some amount of commercial sale of whale products, what is happening in some subsistence whaling nations is far from consistent with the spirit or intent of the aboriginal subsistence whaling standards of the IWC.  If people have a legitimate need for whale products, it is rational to attempt to meet that need. Foreign tourists have no such legitimate need. If a country permits whale products to be sold to tourists, this does not constitute a need consistent with aboriginal subsistence whaling. If anything, any aboriginal quotas allocated to these countries must be reduced, not increased or allowed to remain static.

AWI recognizes the importance of IWC64 not only to determine if Contracting Governments can meet the challenge of engaging in diplomacy without resorting to unacceptable behaviors, but also to vigorously debate the many issues on the meeting’s agenda and to create a future for cetaceans much brighter than the past.

Of urgent concern is a resolution to what constitutes a quorum. The answer is simple—a session can only be quorate and a vote can only occur if a simple majority of Contracting Governments attending a meeting are present in the room and if all governments being counted towards a quorum must have voting rights. Allowing those governments who have not paid their fees and, hence, do not have voting rights to be counted towards a quorum is rewarding bad behavior. That should never be allowed in any international fora. AWI also opposes strategies intentionally designed to prevent independent votes on important issues such as the draft schedule amendment that combines aboriginal subsistence quotas requested by the United States, Russia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines into a single proposal. This was not done to improve the efficiency of the meeting or to save time; it was done to ensure that the weaker subsistence quota requests are protected by the stronger. While AWI has concerns about how need is calculated by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, the lack of complete data on time to death, and of the cruelty inherent in the hunt, there is little question that the AEWC satisfies the definition of subsistence use, that it is constantly working to improve the efficiency of the hunt (thereby reducing cruelty), and that the science that it and its allies pursue is second to none.

In Russia, though these aboriginal hunts have never received critical attention from the NGO community, there is considerable concern over the cruelty inherent in killing both bowhead and gray whales. Times to death reaching two or more hours are unacceptable. We recognize that others have attempted to assist the Russians in improving the efficiency of its hunt but, for any number of reasons, these efforts have either not been possible or have not been successful. We also question the need for the size of the quotas requested by Russia for its aboriginal peoples. Its needs statement, like many others, does not contain the level of detail and analysis that should be encompassed in such a document. Furthermore, recent evidence of commercial sale of whale products in Russia requires increased attention to this hunt, its monitoring scheme, and regulatory underpinnings.

Of additional concern is the Makah gray whale hunt which, at the moment, is no hunt at all. The Makah are barred by a US federal appellate court from engaging in any whaling— and have been since 2003—pending compliance with domestic legal requirements. A quota issued now is of no consequence, relevance, or use for the United States or the Makah.

Humpback whales are the target of a controversial aboriginal hunt in St. Vincent & the Grenadines. Its quota is also up for renewal and must be denied since it has consistently failed to meet the requests, requirements, or questions of the IWC or its Scientific Committee. Its need statement is woefully inadequate, it has continued whaling well beyond the life of the original whaler (who passed in 2002) despite statements claiming it would stop, calves continue to be killed in the hunt, and whale products are sold commercially throughout the country inconsistent with the spirit and intent of the IWC. Continuing to provide this country with chance, after chance, after chance to satisfy the requirements of the IWC is not working and, without some penalty, will never work and may set a dangerous precedent for other international fora.

Humpback whales are only one of many great whales targeted in the Greenlandic hunt.  At IWC64 Denmark, on behalf of Greenland, is seeking an increase in the requested tonnage of whales permitted by the IWC to be taken in the country’s aboriginal hunt. This increase is the product of a highly flawed needs statement that bases the increase in need on a human population increase that is substantially overstated. It also fails to consider demographic changes and alterations in dietary consumption patterns—evidence that all suggests Greenland should be seeking a smaller quota not larger. Further, Contracting Governments cannot support a proposed increase in the tonnage of whales to be taken annually when, as is the case here, the commercial sale of whale products is significant and increasing. Such sales do not reflect local sales among neighbors in remote villages, but massive quantities of whale meat being sold in supermarkets and at restaurants; high end restaurants catering to tourists—not Greenlanders.  Finally, the government’s own promotion of whale meat to tourists makes it impossible to reconcile such high levels of commercial sale with alleged subsistence need—a need that, in some cases, is not being met as so much of the whale products are being sold for commercial gain.

Contracting Government’s must stop the abuse of the aboriginal subsistence whaling opportunities provided by the IWC and they must not allow the commerciality of the practice to literally pull the food from the mouths of those indigenous persons and communities in need. While we recognize that there are some in Greenland that have a legitimate need for whale products, the need is not and will likely never be as high as the government claims. Only by rejecting the draft schedule amendment will Denmark and Greenland recognize that changes must be made, past data must be reevaluated, new evidence must be analyzed, and far greater monitoring must be implemented to determine and justify a legitimate need for its indigenous people.

AWI recognizes that aboriginal subsistence whaling is just one element in a far larger suite of global concerns relevant to cetaceans. Such concerns include ocean noise, pollution, bycatch, disease, climate change, habitat degradation, commercial fishing, ship strikes—threats to great whales, small cetaceans, and a diversity of sea life that are worsening or expanding, not improving or declining. While there is an absolute need to ensure that aboriginal subsistence whaling is conducted in a manner consistent with the spirit and intent of the ICRW and Schedule, the future of the world’s whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other marine species mandates serious and consistent efforts to address the myriad threats—the worsening threats—that affect the survival of these species.

AWI is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of animals, wild or domestic. Since whaling, regardless of the modern weapons used, can’t be done without causing suffering, AWI does not support whaling. Yet, it recognizes that some communities have a need for whales and encourages those communities, their governments, and their scientists to ensure that such hunts are conducted in the most efficient and humane manner possible and that science—credible science—is constantly collected to understand the ecology and biology of the species, the impacts of the hunt, and broader threats to species and their habitats.  Where a need cannot be demonstrated, where the need for science is ignored, and where commerciality becomes more important than meeting legitimate need, the Contracting Governments of the IWC must act. Those governments have a chance to act this year, to deny requested quotas to St. Vincent & the Grenadines and to, at a minimum, reject Greenland’s request for a larger quota—proposals that have no merit.

AWI has been a longstanding participant at the IWC. It has seen the highs and lows of this body as it has struggled over the years to find its way. It has, at times, proven its worth by making important decisions that have saved tens of thousands of whales. Yet, whales continue to die unnecessarily for “science.”  There is no need to continue such killing—it is nothing more than gratuitous violence directed at a sentient creature by those attempting to hold on to a tradition from the past that the overwhelming majority of citizens oppose, for which there are shrinking markets, and for which taxpayers—those subsidizing a dying industry—have no tolerance.  Considering the threats facing the world’s oceans and their inhabitants, the threat most under human control is our direct and indirect impacts to marine species, including cetaceans. Since we simply don’t know how these expanding threats will impact whales in the future, the precautionary principle dictates caution now, and such caution requires that all unnecessary killing of great whales be ended immediately.

The IWC can help achieve this future—it must. To do so, governments must discard the politics of whaling to embrace the protection of whales.  They must pursue the conservation and non-lethal study of whales today and in the future just as vigorously as commercial whalers tragically pursued leviathans today and in the past.  Will the IWC embrace this future?