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David @ Tokyo

Perspective from Japan on whaling and whale meat, a spot of gourmet news, and monthly updates of whale meat stockpile statistics



IWC 2004: South Pacific Whale Sanctuary

I will probably rave on and on about it over the next couple of weeks because the 56th annual IWC meeting is being held in Italy at the moment, but I see that Australia and New Zealand have re-put their proposal for a South Pacific Whale sanctuary to the IWC again (similar proposals have been rejected about four times already, but they keep on trying...).

1) The proposal bears little resemblance to science based conservation. The obvious glitch is that the proposed amendment to the IWC's schedule says: "This prohibition applies irrespective of the conservation status of baleen or toothed whale stocks in this Sanctuary as may from time to time be determined by the Commission." This basically means that no matter how abundant a given whale stock might be in these international waters, not even one whale would be able to be harvested for commercial purposes. If the proposal were based on science, it would probably read more like: "This prohibition applies to all whale stocks in this Sanctuary, except those that are determined by the Commission to be robust enough to sustain a commercial harvest". The objective of the Sanctuary should be to provide depleted whale stocks with the protection they need - but the fact that the proposal includes even whale stocks which are abundant indicates that something fishy is going on....

2) Furthermore, in practical terms the sanctuary is meaningless and has no practical value. This is because a global commercial whaling moratorium has been in place for the best part of two decades now. Declaring a South Pacific Whale sanctuary isn't going to change anything, as whales aren't permitted to be hunted for commercial purposes anywhere in the world anyway.

3) The proposal also rambles on about whale watching activities (which obviously have nothing to do with conservation efforts). Besides, a sanctuary is not required in order to run whale watching operations - all you need is a sustainable supply of whales. It seems that the sponsors of the sanctuary proposal are unaware that "whale stocks are susceptible of natural increases if whaling is properly regulated". And that is despite this very statement being in the preamble of the IWC's Convention. You'd think that before signing a Convention, you would read and accept what it says first, but for some reason New Zealand and Australian officials seem to have failed to do so. There will always be plenty of whales for whale watching so long as the whaling operations are sustainable. Sustainability will not be achieved through meaningless, blanket Sanctuaries, but better and more scientific research.

4) The proposal also notes that even despite the IWC's Scientific Committee (that is, the actual whale scientists) not supporting the imposition of sanctuaries in the past, the IWC (made up of politicians from various member nations) took the decision to put sanctuaries in place anyway. Who cares about science, the politicians say.

Conclusion This proposal, like the rejected proposals that went before it, is clearly not science based and isn't going to achieve anything - accept to maybe harpoon a few more "green" votes for the governments of Australia and New Zealand, and those other nations who decide to support it at the IWC.

That concludes my pre-IWC-meeting analysis of the South Pacific Whale sanctuary proposal. It rightfully should be rejected once again this year, but as the sponsors of the proposal themselves point out, the IWC doesn't pay much attention to science in these matters, so who knows!

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