IWC Compromise Would Allow Commercial Whaling
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03/02/10 Kate Bradshaw
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Greenpeace demonstrators, including some who drove up from Miami, speak out against an International Whaling Commission compromise that would allow commercial whaling on St. Pete Beach.


photo by Kate Bradshaw

The International Whaling Commission is meeting in St. Pete Beach this week to discuss a possible lift of its 1986 ban on commercial whaling. Three of the delegation’s eighty-eight member nations continue to take whales using what some call loopholes in IWC policy. The proposed move has drawn fire from conservationists, and sparked a beach front protest.

Today the IWC began discussions on a compromise that would bring Japan, Iceland, and Norway into compliance by allowing them to whale, even in protected waters like those around Antarctica, if they do it sustainably. Dr. Sue Lieberman is Director of International Policy for the Pew Environment group. She says that there’s no compromise in allowing any commercial whaling, especially in protected waters.

Norway and Iceland hunt whales off their respective coasts in open objection to the IWC moratorium. Japan, Lieberman says, hunts mincke, fin, and humpback whales in the name of what it calls research.

The IWC treaty that allows whales to be killed in the name of research was negotiated in 1946. Lieberman says that many nonlethal research methods exist now that were unheard of in those days.

But some, like International Wildlife Management Consortium president Eugene LaPointe, say conservation is just part of what the IWC does, and that the moral debate has overshadowed whaling’s economic and scientific facets.

LaPointe said that lethal whale research has an insignificant impact on whale populations, and has contributed substantially to the IWC’s body of knowledge on cetaceans. He disagreed that non-lethal research was an effective means of studying wildlife.

Some estimates place the number of whales killed by the three whaling nations since the moratorium at 30 thousand. While he disagrees with what he calls “industrial whaling” practices, LaPointe said cultures that have relied on whaling for centuries should be able to conduct whaling.

Phil Kline, Oceans Campaigner for Greenpeace, said his organization has never opposed indigenous people using whales for sustenance. On the beach that fronts the resort where the IWC is convening, Kline and more than a dozen others quietly protested the compromise with a replica of a whale tale and a banner. Whales, Kline said, are threatened by so many other factors that allowing them to be hunted for commercial purposes would be detrimental.

The purpose of the demonstration was to draw the attention of the Obama administration, which, despite the president’s election-year condemnation of whaling in 2008, has been mum on the issue this week.

The discussions will continue through Thursday, with member nations as well as nongovernmental organizations having their say. A final decision on the commercial whaling compromise is expected at the IWC’s annual meeting this June in Morocco.

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