51st Annual General Meeting
St George's, Grenada

The 51st Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held from 24-28 May 1999 in St George's, Grenada. The proceedings were conducted by the Chairman, Mr. Michael Canny (Ireland) and the Vice-Chairman, Mr Bo Fernholm (Sweden).

Catch limits for commercial whaling

In 1982, the Commission took a decision, which came into force from the 1986 and 1985/86 seasons, that catch limits for all commercial whaling would be set to zero.

As in previous years, the Commission did not adopt a proposal by Japan for an interim relief allocation of 50 minke whales to be taken by coastal community-based whaling.

Norway has lodged objections to the ban and has exercised its right to set national catch limits for its coastal whaling operations for minke whales. The Commission referred to its Resolution passed last year calling on Norway to halt all whaling activities under its jurisdiction.

Revised Management Scheme

Although the Commission has accepted and endorsed the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) for commercial whaling, it has noted that work on a number of issues, including specification of an inspection and observer system must be completed before the Commission will consider establishing catch limits other than zero. This work is ongoing. The work on this is continuing and there will be an extended Working Group meeting before next year's meeting. It will include consideration of information on DNA testing in the context of the monitoring of catches and whale products.

In 1997, Ireland introduced a proposal for discussion intended to lead to a break in the deadlock between the governments opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling and those in favour. Its elements include: completion and adoption of the Revised Management Scheme; designation of a global sanctuary for whales; permission for closely regulated and monitored coastal whaling within 200 mile zones by communities with a long tradition for such activity; prohibition of international trade in whale products; and the cessation of scientific research catches. Reaching consensus on such a package of measures is proving extremely difficult, but many Commissioners expressed their interest on continuing discussions and the Commission agreed to keep this Item on its Agenda.

Catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling

In 1997, the Commission agreed to the following catch limits for several stocks subject to aboriginal subsistence whaling. The only change to these made this year was for the catch of humpback whales by St Vincent and The Grenadines.

Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock of bowhead whales (taken by Alaskan Eskimos and native peoples of Chukotka) - The total number of landed whales for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 shall not exceed 280 whales, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).

Eastern North Pacific gray whales (taken by those whose "traditional, aboriginal and subsistence needs have been recognised") - A total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.

West Greenland fin whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual catch of 19 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.

West Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - The annual number of whales struck for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, shall not exceed 175 (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).

East Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual catch of 12 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 (up to 3 unused strikes may be carried over each year).

Humpback whales (taken by St Vincent and The Grenadines) - for the seasons 2000 to 2002, the annual catch shall not exceed two whales.

The taking of calves or females accompanied by calves is forbidden. The Scientific Committee continued to make progress towards developing new management regimes for aboriginal subsistence whaling; this work has been given high priority by the Commission.

Status of whales

Despite a long period of protection, several populations of great whales remain highly endangered and number 500 or less. These include all bowhead whale stocks apart from the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock that numbers over 7,000; gray whales in the western Pacific (those in the eastern Pacific, by contrast, number over 20,000); all stocks of northern right whales; and various stocks of blue whales. Some of these small Arctic bowhead populations are subjected to direct catches outside IWC regulations (a bowhead was taken in 1998 by Canadian Eskimos), are killed by ship strikes or are bycaught in fishing gear. Their status will be considered as a priority subject by the Scientific Committee next year. The Commission passed a Resolution calling on Governments to take action and in particular not to authorise takes from such stocks.

Scientific permit catches

Two proposed permits by Japan were considered. One is an extension of its continuing programme in the Southern Hemisphere (now 400±10% minke whales from the Antarctic). The second is for the continuing programme to take 100 minke whales in the western North Pacific. The issuance of such permits is a sovereign right under the Convention. The Commission adopted a Resolution calling on the Government of Japan to refrain from issuing these permits and reiterated that in reviewing scientific permits, the Scientific Committee should examine whether the research is required for management or could be carried out using non-lethal means.

Whale killing methods and associated welfare issues

The Commission held a Workshop on Whale Killing Methods prior to this year's meeting. This resulted in the development of a revised Action Plan. The Commission passed a Resolution that encouraged nations to supply relevant data on killing times and related issues in future years and also to provide technical assistance to reduce time to unconsciousness and death in aboriginal subsistence fisheries.

Environmental Research

The Commission has strengthened its commitment to research on environmental changes and the effects on cetaceans. In particular, it provided 'seed funding' of £126,000 for two major collaborative research initiatives made by its Scientific Committee with respect to:

  1. Chemical pollutants (POLLUTION 2000+) and
  2. Baleen whale habitat and prey studies in co-operation with CCAMLR and Southern Ocean GLOBEC (SOWER 2000). However, these programmes will require of the order of £300,000 more in the first year. National Governments and others are requested to provide additional funding.

The Commission also agreed to review all aspects of human health issues related to cetacean products. It calls upon governments to take measures to reduce harmful pollutants

Small cetaceans

Notwithstanding the different views of member countries over the legal competence of the IWC to manage small cetaceans, the Contracting Governments continue to co-operate in consideration of small cetaceans, particularly with respect to the work of the Scientific Committee. The Commission adopted a Resolution concerning Dall's porpoises and encouraged a precautionary approach to management.

Co-operation with other Organisations

The Commission noted the importance of co-operation with other organisations, particularly in the context of scientific research. Further research co-operation with a number of organisations (including The Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans of the Baltic and North Seas (ASCOBANS); International Convention on Endangered Species (ICES); Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS); Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR); and Southern Ocean GLOBEC (SO-GLOBEC)) has been strengthened this year. In addition, the Commission adopted resolutions relevant to co-operation with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and, with respect to health issues and consumption of certain cetacean products, with the World Health Organisation.

Establishment of a new scientific journal

The Commission is pleased to announce a major new scientific journal, The Journal of Cetacean Research and Management. The first issue and supplement was published in April 1999. This will maintain and improve the high quality of scientific publications published by the IWC.

Date and place of the next Annual Meeting

The next Annual Meeting will be held in Australia from 3-6 July 2000. For the first time, all plenary sessions of the meeting will be open for television coverage.

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