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  National Geographic 1 Jun 07
Japan Threatens to Quit Whaling Body, Ending Turbulent Meeting
John Roach for National Geographic News

Yahoo News 1 Jun 07
Whale forum passes on addressing global warming
By Yereth Rosen

BBC 1 Jun 07
Whaling fights: Everyone's a winner
By Richard Black Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Japan

Anchorage, Alaska Hardly a single whale has been saved and hardly a single whaler's lot has been eased.

That, unfortunately, has to be the conclusion as yet another meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) draws to its weary close beneath the sullen skies of Anchorage.

Importance of moratorium confirmed
Science not ready to consider lifting moratorium
Japan's scientific whaling condemned
Japan's coastal whaling bid withdrawn
South Atlantic whale sanctuary bid defeated
Dangerous activities in Southern Ocean condemned
Importance of whale-watching recognised
Slight increases in Greenland subsistence whaling
Subsistence quotas maintained for four coastal communities
There has been rhetoric, there has been anger - some genuine, some synthesized for the moment - there have been resolutions passed and resolutions blocked. But no real progress, certainly no meeting of minds. And some observers are now questioning whether either side really wants it.

"The IWC is absolutely not working," says Charlotte Epstein from the University of Sydney, author of a forthcoming book on the history and politics of whaling. "It's amazing that people continue to go there every year, because what you have is two voices that are talking past one another. You have the whalers and the anti-whalers; nothing gets done, nothing changes, there's no moving forward."

Agreeing to disagree

At first sight, this is perplexing, because both the pro- and anti-whaling camps say they want change, albeit in opposite directions; and Japan came to this meeting preaching conciliation.

"In the long history of IWC, it's always fighting each other, and confrontational, and just talking to the press rather than talking to each other," Japan's alternate (deputy) whaling commissioner Joji Morishita told me just before the meeting started.

"And many of us, including those even on the other side - the anti-whaling countries - are thinking that we are doing nothing, wasting time and making no progress."

Late last year, Japan hosted a meeting on "normalisation" to which all IWC governments were invited. "Normalisation" partly means returning the commission to its original purpose of regulating the whaling industry, and partly just making it functional.

Most countries in the anti-whaling camp stayed away. Here, they stayed away from the possibility of a compromise which Japan floated on day one. It pledged to reconsider its controversial plan to include humpbacks in its Antarctic hunt, conducted under rules permitting whaling for scientific research, if opponents would consider its plan to allow four coastal communities a small commercial catch.

Urged on by environmental NGOs, anti-whaling countries dismissed it out of hand, saying that Japan must unilaterally abandon the humpbacks first. There could be no deal. All possibility of conciliation and co-operation evaporated.

The NGOs and their governments had reasons to be suspicious of the Japanese bid, which, as it stood, amounted to a breach of the moratorium because whales would be hunted overtly for commerce.

Nevertheless, there seemed room for discussion. So why the reluctance to engage, to seek a mutually acceptable way forward?

"There's that relationship between NGOs and governments that is quite functional from both of their perspectives," observes Dr Epstein. "Governments look quite green because they're listening to NGOs; NGOs get listened to in an international system of states where there isn't much room normally for them. So there isn't much incentive to listen to anything else."

In this thesis, the NGOs dictate what governments need to say to look green, the governments say it, and NGOs duly say nice things about them. Reporters lap it all up, even help foment it, because they know what story their readers are expecting; it is all utterly predictable, and nobody has an incentive to step out of line.

Everyone's a winner; except, of course, the whales.

Becoming heroes

While Japan was hosting its normalisation summit, a select group of conservation organisations and academics came together for a meeting in New York organised by the Pew Charitable Trusts, also to seek ideas for taking management of whales and whaling forward.

Among the speakers was Atsushi Ishii, a political scientist from Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, who opposes high seas whaling.

He believes the current argumentative status quo also suits the body responsible for managing Japan's whaling, the Fisheries Agency. "Japan is happy to continue scientific whaling; but they say scientific whaling is needed because they want to overturn the moratorium, so they need the moratorium to continue scientific whaling," he says.

"Anti-whaling activities are only fuelling support for the Fisheries Agency, and fuelling support for scientific whaling. "And scientific whaling is the last thing the anti-whaling activists want; so I would suggest that they stop such activities and wait for the decline in support for scientific whaling among the Japanese people."

Dyke bursting

If Atsushi Ishii and Charlotte Epstein are right, the outlook is indeed bleak.

But there were signs here in Anchorage that things have gone too far for a number of the more constructive governments. Delegates agreed that talks about the future should begin; before the next annual meeting in Chile, there will be a special gathering to discuss ways forward.

"This meeting is perhaps the last chance to put a finger in the dyke and stop the IWC breaking apart," says Remi Parmentier, a consultant to the Pew Trusts, who helped convene the New York gathering. "Otherwise we may be looking at the ashes of the IWC."

Dissolution of the IWC, or even a handful of important countries leaving, would potentially return us to the dark ages of the 1930s when whaling was essentially unregulated.

Talks within the IWC might not be enough. Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's whaling commissioner, former Prime Minister and chair of the Pew meeting, believes there are options outside.

"You could set up a World Commission to examine the situation in relation to whales," he says, "or you could try and put the issue into the UN and see if you could get some interest that way.

"It's interesting that the normalisation meeting itself in Tokyo said 'look, we think it might have to go outside the IWC' - if you get it to the ministerial level, it would change."

Not everyone is convinced. In fact a number of NGOs were deeply offended by the Pew initiative, which they regarded as opening a door to the continuation of whaling when they believe a complete and total ban - except, perhaps, for subsistence hunting - is the only goal worth fighting for.

But NGOs have been saying this since the original Save the Whale campaign began back in the flower power era. That ushered in the moratorium; but even so, catches by Norway and Japan have risen steadily over the last decade, and about 2,500 whales will die under the harpoon before the IWC convenes again next year.

Some societies are just not convinced that a total and irrevocable halt is necessary or desirable, and the IWC rules cannot stop them hunting by force; acknowledging that and dealing with it may be the price campaigners have to pay, in the real world, for an oversight system that works.

"The NGOs were absolutely vital in getting us to pay attention to the plight of the whale," says Charlotte Epstein. "The point is that now we may need to move on." You can hear more on the issue of whaling on the BBC World Service's One Planet programme website

National Geographic 1 Jun 07
Japan Threatens to Quit Whaling Body, Ending Turbulent Meeting
John Roach for National Geographic News

Japan threatened to quit the International Whaling Commission yesterday following a tumultuous week of meetings in Anchorage, Alaska. The Asian country failed to gain support for a proposal to allow four of its coastal communities to hunt whales.

Antiwhaling nations said the proposal would have lifted the 21-year ban on commercial whaling. Japan argued the coastal communities have whaled for thousands of years and the hunt should be allowed under the same rules that allow aboriginal groups such as Eskimos to whale.

Opponents contend that the Japanese communities are not traditional settlements and note that they already take part in Japan's so-called research whaling, which is condoned by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

"The commission wasn't interested," said Sue Fisher, U.S. policy director and whaling campaigner for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. "It saw through the attempt as being an effort to overturn the moratorium." Japan scrapped the proposal once it became clear it would not pass.

Then, at the end of the meeting, the Japanese commissioner took the floor and threatened to leave the whaling body. "There is a real possibility we will review at a fundamental level our role in the IWC and this would include withdrawing, setting up a new organization," Akira Nakamae said. Japan has made similar gestures in the past and the threat is not being taken seriously, according to Fisher.

"This is just posturing," she said, "but obviously intended to rattle the like-minded antiwhaling countries enough so that over the course of the next year, they'll start asking Japan how they might make friends [with Japan] again."

Tumultuous Week

Japan's threat to withdraw capped a tumultuous week.

On Tuesday aboriginal groups in the U.S., Russia, and the Caribbean were granted approval to continue their whale-hunting traditions for another five years. Greenland, however, stymied the whaling body with a proposal to increase the number of whales its native people are allowed to hunt.

The Danish territory sought more minke whales and the addition of bowheads and humpbacks to its quota. Ultimately, the Danish territory won approval for 200 minke whales and 2 bowheads per year over the next five years, but no humpbacks.

The whaling commission will review the increase in minke and bowhead hunting at next year's meeting. If the bigger quotas are deemed unsustainable, Greenland will be under pressure to voluntarily drop the additions, Fisher said.

The commission also passed a resolution Thursday that upholds the 21-year ban on commercial whaling. The move reversed a resolution passed at last year's meeting by a one-vote majority that said the moratorium was temporary and no longer necessary.

Thursday's resolution may discourage delegates from lifting a ban on trade in whale products at a meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) next week in the Netherlands, Fisher said.

Small Cetaceans

In another development, the commission adopted a resolution by consensus that urges action to save the critically endangered vaquita, a porpoise in Mexico.

The consensus resolution is a conservation first for a small cetacean, according to the international conservation group WWF. Cetaceans include whales, dolphins, and porpoises.

In addition, IWC members expressed opposition to a U.S. plan to open to oil and gas development an area of critical habitat for the eastern North Pacific right whale population.

The North Pacific right whale is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Its Alaskan population was estimated at fewer than a hundred in 2006. The plan to open up Alaska's Bristol Bay to oil and gas development is set to take effect on July 1. Bills to block the leasing are pending in the U.S. Congress.

Yahoo News 1 Jun 07
Whale forum passes on addressing global warming
By Yereth Rosen

An international forum this week on the fate of the world's whales barely addressed what scientists consider one of the most serious threats to marine life: global warming.

A warming climate threatens food sources in Antarctic waters for the world's largest creature and has been linked to unusual migration patterns and the strange behavior of whales off Alaska's coast, scientists say.

A proposed International Whaling Commission resolution expressing concerns about global warming and its impact on whales never came up for a vote. The group opted instead for a climate change conference at some point in the future.

"In light of the massive impacts that stand to be made on whales and their habitat, we would have liked this body to take action on that and express their concern," said Patrick Ramage, whale program manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

"This forum is still kind of stuck in 1946, where they're debating whether whales should be harpooned or not."

Delegates from pro- and anti-whaling countries also voiced concern the ideological division over commercial whaling was crippling the IWC's ability to address the many threats facing whales.

"I thought that the commission might say something because this is certainly the biggest threat to all of us -- whales, aboriginal people, you, me," said Mark Simmonds, senior scientist at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society and a member of the IWC's science committee.


The difficulty in addressing the problem, according to scientists, is trying to isolate the factors combining to affect whale habitats, such as pollution or climate change.

"The problem is we don't understand the ecosystem well enough," said Greg Donovan, the committee's chief of science, noting the conference on climate change may shed more light on the topic.

Whales from the Arctic appear to have altered some of their migration patterns, while ice-dependent whales in Antarctica might be losing some of their primary food, krill, and their overall habitat, said Donovan.

In addition, whales swimming in temperate climates might find the location of their prime habitats shifting due to warming water. Whales used to migrate to the Arctic for only the long-daylight days of summer, but they are arriving earlier and staying longer, said officials from Alaska's North Slope Borough, the government for the state's northernmost region.

"We've even documented whale singing in the dead of winter, in January and February," said North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta. This past winter, borough officials detected some gray whales that instead of making normal migrations to the sunny south, apparently spent the winter in the waters northeast of Barrow, the northernmost U.S. community.

Related articles on Dolphins and other cetaceans
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