The 50th IWC meeting, Oman

A New Climate?

Environmental changes and the future of the IWC

Edited from: Eco, 18 May, 1998 Volume L No. 2

Over the half century the Commission has struggled with issues of living marine resource management and conservation, much has changed, including both the nature and scale of pressures on the marine environment. The Year of the Ocean and the IWC's 50th meeting mark a time when the Commission's central concerns are increasingly affected by a range of threats that have emerged over the past thirty years, including the impacts of ozone depletion on important whale feeding grounds; water circulation changes resulting from global warming; the physiological consequences of bioaccumulation of pollutants; and prey depletion by fisheries.

At a time when threats to cetaceans are becoming more daunting, varied and global, the IWC may be the only collection of scientists and policy makers that can respond properly with the necessary resources, expertise, and longevity. In recent years, the Commission has consistently passed resolutions by consensus to commend and encourage the Scientific Committee in its work to include these concerns in its work plan.

This year's meeting of the Scientific Committee has shown the full promise of its remarkably rapid and comprehensive adaptation to these changes. The Standing Working Group on Environmental Concerns, established just last year, became one of the most well attended sub-committees and launched two ground-breaking international research plans to understand the impacts of chemical contaminants and climatic change on cetaceans.

The Scientific Committee organized a series of 'summits' of the world cetacean and contaminant experts which have now culminated in an international non-invasive research plan which will first focus on three species that are of particular concern: bottlenose dolphins, harbor porpoise, and belugas. The four-year research plan is designed to investigate how the industrial chemicals that have made their way into almost every ecosystem in the world threaten the world's whales and dolphins.

The second long term research initiative will ally the IWC with two of the world's leading intergovernmental organizations studying ocean ecosystems (GLOBEC and CCAMLR) to study how whales respond to changes in the Southern Ocean. This region is a showcase for how climatic changes could affect whales: a receding ice edge reduces the vital feeding grounds where krill are most abundant; unique circulation patterns that dictate where food will be concentrated are expected to change; and ultra-violet radiation passing through the ozone hole hampers the early stages of the food chain on which migrating whales depend. The project will use state-of-the-art international research vessels to combine expert whale observations and surveys with investigations into the region's changing ecosystem, and will set an important example for using non-invasive research to understand the connection between whales and their environment.

This year the Scientific Committee also decided that similar research initiatives were required for habitat degradation and environmental changes in the Arctic. Both will be the additional priority topics for next year. Habitat degradation includes oil spills, coastal development, shipping, toxic algal blooms and more, which can conspire to destroy or change food sources, breeding habitat and migration patterns of whales and dolphins. Particular reasons for concern include recent mass-mortalities of coastal cetacean populations, and the population of right whales in the West Atlantic that shows no signs of recovery some six decades after their exploitation is thought to have stopped. The Scientific Committee has called for an international workshop on the habitat degradation to be held as soon as funding is available (1998, IWC/50/4, 12.6).

The Arctic is also considered a hot spot for impacts on cetaceans by pollution, climate change and ozone depletion. It is here that some beluga whales have been classified as toxic waste, and others are considered a potential health hazard to subsistence hunters. The impacts of changing currents and ultra-violet radiation on cetacean food resources were investigated this year in key contributions to the 50th meeting. The Scientific Committee has decided the dangers in the Arctic are worrying enough to warrant a special regional focus, and has organized intercessional work by experts to develop research proposals for next year.

The Standing Working Group on Environmental Concerns also reported the establishment by some of its members of an intercessional monitoring group which will receive and compile information to produce a 'Annual State of the Cetacean Environment Report' to present to the Scientific Committee and the Commission on a yearly basis. Any interested scientists and governments were encouraged to participate (1998, IWC/50/4, 12.5).

Dangers to cetaceans by a changing environment are a concern to everybody, no matter where they find themselves in the intransigent whaling debate. A full commitment at this year's meeting to a long-term, fully-funded conservation and research plan addressing the environmental threats facing cetaceans would be a positive and vital step for the IWC as it celebrates its 50th anniversary and strides into the next century.

The Cheating Game

At this year's Scientific Committee meeting, new evidence of falsification of sperm whale catch data in Soviet factory ship operations in the North Pacific ocean in the 1960's was identified. Available data indicate that both males and females were under reported by about 1.3 and 9.6 times respectively. The true catches were indicated to total about 180,000, more than 60% higher than the officially reported catch of 111,106.

Significant falsification of Japanese catch data from land based sperm whaling operations was also reported to the Scientific Committee. Two new data sets were presented concerning under reporting of total catch numbers, falsification of the number of reported females in the catch, and falsification of body length of undersized whales. An intersessional ad hoc working group agreed "that Japanese coastal sperm whale catches are unreliable."

During discussion of this problem, the Scientific Committee recalled that other papers published by the IWC suggested that there were suspicions about the validity of Japanese land station data for sperm whales. The first paper was published in 1977, and the most recent in 1998.

The most famous example to date of data corruption concerns falsification of Soviet Antarctic pelagic whaling data from the 1960's and 1970's. While the reported kills of humpback whales by the Soviets was 2,710, the actual kill was 48,477. The Soviets reported killing only one of the rare right whales during the period, but the actual take was 3,349, according to log books uncovered in recent years.

The whales' Bermuda love triangle?

There is an unmistakable air of romance in the Majan Ballroom. As Michael Canny and Devon Joseph formally declared their love for one another, even Eco was slowly falling under the spell of the Commissioner for Antigua and Barbuda. On Saturday Mr. Joseph's concern for whale watchers, and the welfare of whales who become suicidal at the hands of those who practice this highly dangerous activity, fostered a new affection for our friend from the Caribbean. Spurred by his passion for his subject, Mr. Joseph took the floor time and again on Sunday to highlight the cruelty of whaling. He even laid down a challenge to the Commission to dispute his claim that "No killing which is against the will of the victim can be humane". We were relieved by his assurance that ALL delegations are concerned about times to death and the reduction of suffering, and look forward to the increased humaneness in the whaling operations conducted by his corridor companions the Japanese. We can only hope he is strongly lobbying his case behind the scenes.

And our new ally is not fickle: his compassion extends beyond the charismatic megafauna to the other animals and even human beings on which the whales wreak their destruction. An animal welfarist through and through.

It has been a concern of many NGOs for several years that Japan has been exerting undue influence over the Caribbean nations with respect to their policies within the IWC. But Mr. Joseph's entertaining interventions have endeared him to the community. His improvisations have been thoroughly enjoyed and further deviations from his script are anticipated with glee.

A view of history from the High North

In its opening statement, the Norwegian delegation has kindly provided us with an "history" of the IWC, especially since 1972, the year the moratorium was first proposed by the United Nations. It imaginatively blends facts with myths. Lets look at some of the myths:

  1. Myth: The commercial moratorium was "temporary" and expired in 1990. Fact: It didn't. It is indefinite and remains until overturned by a three-fourths contrary vote.
  2. Myth: The 1985 decision to classify the NE Atlantic minke stock as "protection", with zero catch limit was "not scientifically documented". Fact: This classification was recommended by the Scientific Committee with only the Norwegian scientist abstaining. Having summarily rejected all scientific analyses except its own, the Norwegian delegation now has the audacity to offer its congratulations for the "scientific integrity" and "competence" of the Scientific Committee!
  3. Myth: The then (British) Chairman of the Scientific Committee resigned in 1991 in protest because the Commission did not act on his committee's advice. Fact: Dr. Hammond resigned in pique that the Commission made it clear that it would not consider implementing the just-completed RMP before such practical matters as an effective international monitoring and enforcement scheme had been put in place. The ex-Chairman used his freedom from responsibility to tell the world press that the IWC had abandoned science.
  4. Myth: The increase in number of IWC member states from 1970 to 1982 represented the victory of a strategy to build a 3/4 majority for a moratorium. Fact: The initial build up was the result of the whalers' strategy to bring all the countries then hosting Japanese whaling operations into the IWC. Each of these could only be "neutralised" by three votes in favor of a moratorium. The increase towards the end of this period was triggered by the whaling nations' own strategy of securing complete and permanent control of the IWC by bringing in the countries which were then hosting Japanese-controlled whaling operations, for export. Each of these could only be "neutralised" by three votes in favor of a moratorium. After 1982, several of these countries, notably Brazil and Spain, became and remained among the strongest supporters of conservation.

How "safe" is the Irish proposal?

Regardless of the variety of views about the strategy of negotiation rather than confrontation, it is widely assumed that at least the RMP is a "safe" way of calculating catch limits for baleen whales. But is it really? Although the Catch Limit Algorithm (CLA) may be intrinsically "precautionary", its output depends on the quality of its data input; in this case the saying "GIGO"... Garbage In (toxic) Garbage Out... is especially applicable. The only data required by the RMP/CLA are:

  1. series of historical catches plus other human-induced kills, and
  2. sightings surveys results.

WDCS's briefing "Total catches over time" points out several ways in which the actual numbers of whales killed are consistently higher than the reported commercial catches; such under estimating leads to higher than justified RMP catch limits.

As to the sightings surveys, there are several problems. First, the Commission has in recent years so far opted to look at results of surveys conducted by the whalers instead of under the auspices of the IWC itself, as was done for the southern ocean IDCR surveys. This does not add to the credibility of the Commission. Second, at the technical level, there are emerging serious problems with the highly complex survey techniques. As a member of the Scientific Committee has said, he knew of no areas of serious science in which the most critical math assessment parameter was a guessed number. But the most critical variable in surveys is the distance of each sighted whale from the track line It is quite feasible for that distance to be measured objectively by calibrated instruments , yet whale counters continue to rely entirely on the observer's "judgement". The CLA requires input not only on the numbers of whales, but equally on estimates of the "standard error" (SE) of those estimates. If the SE is small, the catch limits are larger, and vice versa. At the Scientific Committee this year, serious differences of opinion, unresolved, emerged about the calculation of the SE... with consequent big effects on what catch limit numbers would be produced.


Lacking the ability or political will to enforce the current prohibitions on sales of whale meat, Japan and Norway have tried to circumvent IWC decisions by going "convention shopping". So far the efforts have failed, but there is no guarantee that the historical delineation of responsibilities between IWC and CITES will hold.

Though CITES regulates international commerce in endangered plants and animals, it has chosen to defer to the IWC on cetacean matters. It has adopted several resolutions, including Res. Conf. 2.9, that clearly recognise the mandate of the IWC to manage whales, and direct the CITES Secretariat to follow the IWC position. A 1997 Japanese draft resolution to overturn this arrangement between the IWC and CITES was overwhelmingly rejected at the CITES Conference in Harare, as were 5 attempts to downlist whale stocks to allow trade.

Several attempts to smuggle whale meat between Norway and Japan have been exposed. DNA proof has demonstrated that illegally traded meat from endangered whales is commonly sold in Japanese markets. Instead of bringing their trade under the control of international law, Japan seeks to change the law.

Fortunately, the Parties of CITES recognised this at their last meeting and rejected Japan's attempt to subvert the IWC's purview over the management of whales. ECO urges all IWC members to embrace the support that came out of Harare, and to make it clear to CITES that it must continue. The consequences of a change that allowed international trade in whale products would be disastrous for the whales.

Norway nabbed

Suddenly, the day after Norway's 1998 whale hunt began, the government of Norway discovered that the Salmon House duty-free shop in the departure lounge at Oslo airport was selling dried "whale beef" in slices for $60 a kilo. Most passengers from Oslo are bound for CITES member states, where import would be illegal.

According to Reuters, a spokesman for the Salmon House shop claimed that the sales were due to a misunderstanding of Norwegian export rules. How such a "misunderstanding" can occur is difficult to understand, since Norway's self-imposed ban on exports of whale meat has been one of the most widely discussed issues in the Norwegian media over the past five years, and heavily criticized by the Norwegian whalers. In any case, the company providing the shop with the whale meat would certainly know that the sale would be illegal, and so would the Norwegian tax authorities who have to be notified of any products sold tax-free in the airport.

The sales were quickly stopped after Reuters revealed their existence. But when the whaling season ends, will the government's attention waver?

There's "polls" and "polls"

Several of the pro whaling (Un)"wise use" NGOs represented here have been touting the results of a telephone poll conducted in the United States about attitudes towards resumption of whaling. They claim that many if not most Americans would support commercial minke whaling if assured the minke was not an endangered species and the products were for human consumption.

The poll report is almost a classic example of biassed polling. First, all the questions asked were "slanted". If, for example, people had been asked would they support resumed whaling had they known of the cruelty of the hunt, the answer would have been different. Second, the poll was entirely unrepresentative, both with respect to sex and to age of respondents. Hardly any of those questioned were aged between 18 and 34, for example.

A result previously not mentioned was that those who, despite the slanted question, said they opposed any commercial whaling. Most did so because they considered the hunting and killing methods to be cruel. Perhaps all these countries that took Japan's lead in opposing the Commission's concern for humaneness would take note of this ethical position... which would surely be refuted in many other countries.

Chaos! Point of disorder

The Caribbean Wrecking Crew yesterday effectively crushed any dream the Chair might have that this 50th Annual Meeting of the IWC would finesse an Irish commercial whaling "compromise".

Contracted by a Japanese conglomerate, guided by an inept manager, and suffering a complete lack of diplomatic machinery, the Caribbean Commissioners, were painfully incessant with their consistently embarrassing and prolonged interventions. They have succeeded where many NGOs had failed. Few would contest that credit for demolishing sympathy for Ireland's proposed coastal whaling scheme would lie anywhere but upon the heads of the delegations from the Calypso bacchanal.

Vote after vote, and ruling upon ruling, have gone against the Wrecking Crew crowd. The ears of moderate coastal whaling hopefuls have been subjected to enough high decibel blasting... enough to deafen any capability of detecting the sounds of reasonable arguments and sensible deliberations.

Virtually every time the Commission began an important task, a work stoppage was arranged. For four days, international diplomats have had to detour around barriers of buffoonery and roadblocks of rhetoric.

When the final (NO)progress report for IWC50 is prepared, the six Caribbean delegations will surely face a bill for shoddy work and wasteful expenditures... and the Commission should send the claim for damages to the government of Japan.

Bryde's next?

Read the resolution on Implementation Trials for the RMP (IWC/50/43)

What on Earth is the Scientific Committee up to these days? It looks to us as if they are intent on the reopening of factory ship whaling. You'll remember this was the kind of whaling that brought blue whales in the Southern Ocean to the edge of extinction. Preparing for this gory new beginning is a complex matter. Never mind, the Scientific Committee is on the job... whilst no one is really watching.

The RMP contains rules for determining the allowed catch of a whale species in an area. But before it can be applied to a whale species such as minke or Bryde's whales in an ocean, the Scientific Committee has to choose the boundaries of Management Areas for which catch limits are to be calculated. To do this, the Committee designs and runs the so-called Implementation Simulation Trials (IST) which involve simulating the effects of whaling under the RMP on the populations. Based on the results of these trials, the Committee decides what area boundaries are appropriate for calculating RMP catch limits.

IST's were completed for North Atlantic and Antarctic minke whales in 1993. On this basis Norway has unilaterally used the RMP for its minke whale fishery in the North Atlantic. In 1997, the Commission instructed the Scientific Committee not to make any further preparations for implementing the RMP for Antarctic minke whales because the intention of the Sanctuary decision is not to allow future catches there.

Meanwhile, in Wonderland, the Scientific Committee has spent the last two years preparing IST's for exploiting North Pacific Bryde's whales. The Committee was informed in 1997 (SC/49/NP3) that Japan's intention was to conduct pelagic (factory ship) whaling for Bryde's whales in the North Pacific; i.e. the Scientific Committee has done all this knowing full well that it would lead to the re-emergence of factory ships on the high seas.

As noted in today's Resolution, Schedule paragraph 10(d) prohibits factory ship whaling for all whales except minke whales. No member of the IWC has lodged an objection to paragraph 10(d), nor has the Commission received any proposal to modify it.

The purpose of the Resolution is to ensure that the Scientific Committee does not continue to expend efforts on its own preparing for an activity which is contrary to the IWC Schedule.

Ban Sanctuaries!

We expect most delegations, understandably, to ignore the largely nonsensical legalistic arguments against the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, cobbled together at Japan's request by William T. Burke. However, they should not be left unchallenged. The overall thrust of Burke's argument is that it is contrary to the 1946 Convention to prohibit whaling in any particular area, either permanently or temporarily, as did the 1994 Southern Ocean decision. But the 1979 Indian Ocean decision was identical in this respect, and Japan did not object to that then, or subsequently when it was made of indefinite duration. And the designation of a large part of the South Pacific as a sanctuary in the 1950s was initiated and upheld by all the whaling nations on "precautionary" grounds.

Dr. Burke rests his case on a claim that the 1994 decision was "not supported by scientific findings". But the proposal was considered by the Scientific Committee -- as was the 1979 Indian Ocean proposal. Evidently, there could be no consensus in the Committee as a result its politicisation. Interestingly, the one sanctuary that was totally supported by whaling states, that is, the first one in the South Pacific, was not based on any scientific analysis!

The general provision in the Convention authorising the declaration of sanctuaries was pondered by governments from 1938 to 1946, and the records of the negotiations show quite clearly that they were -- in current terminology -- to be precautionary and not dependent on evidence of stock depletions.

Who decides?

How the Scientific Committee spends its time and the Commission's money

Outsiders are commonly told that the Scientific Committee is independent, that is, its members are not briefed or directed by their sponsors. Unfortunately, as is immediately obvious to anyone who has sat in on the Committee, this is not quite the case. Some members come to meetings with agendas of their own or of others not present. More important, however, than the integrity and competence of the work done, is the choice of what work is to be done. In this matter, the Commission has recently been allowing its Committee to "lead from behind", and its agenda is being set by scientists whose objective is the restoration of unregulated and unsustainable whaling. This backwards slide started with attempts to "retune" the RMP after it had been approved by the Commission, in order to give higher catch limits by being less precautionary. Now, the tactic has moved to conducting so-called "implementation" (computer) trials for the catching of Brydes whales in the North Pacific by factory ships. (See related story p.1). The Committee was not told to do this by the Commission. That could hardly have been possible, since pelagic factory ship whaling for any species than minke has been absolutely and indefinitely prohibited since 1980, under Article 10(d) of the Schedule. As it did yesterday, the Committee blithely slips its "authorisation" through in the blur of presenting its bulky report to the Commission... a process that receives very little comment and virtually automatic approval.

Oh, Canada...

Ten nations are sponsoring the resolution urging Canada to rejoin the IWC. A founding member, Canada quit the commission in 1982, claiming it no longer hunted whales, an extraordinary piece of disinformation, given the ongoing beluga and narwhal hunts. In 1991, Canada began killing endangered bowhead whales and became an openly defiant pirate whaling nation.

In 1996 the IWC passed a resolution calling on Canada to rejoin and "refrain from issuing further permits unless it obtains IWC approval". Guess what happened?

The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), well known for its blundering mismanagement of cod and salmon fisheries, refuses to consider rejoining the IWC, or even asking' for an opinion about the taking of endangered bowhead whales in the eastern Arctic.

Last year's sanctioned bowhead hunt was an atrocious exercise which saw a hail of bullets flying, a finally dead whale which sunk out of sight, and a total waste of the whale when its bloated carcass resurfaced. It was a gruesome, inhumane and wasteful episode.

Now, Canadian marine mammal scientists and the whale-watching industry have joined forces in an attempt to publicise Canada's rotten underside, and expose the DFO's disregard of scientific data in the name of political expediency.

Among other initiatives exposing the DFO's irresponsibility, many Canadians are urging their government to rejoin the IWC. The caveat to the initiative is that Canada does so with an intent that accurately reflects current Canadian scientific knowledge and public and economic interests in whales. These days, like the people of so many other nations, Canadians know the future lies in watching whales, not killing them. Canada, if it rejoins the IWC, must do so as a pro whale nation

The Dall's disaster

One of the casualties of this year's "Let's Not Do Anything To Upset Japan And Norway" Strategy that some members think will bring these errant nations to a state of cooperation, is the Dall's porpoise. A resolution that was in the works a couple of days ago has now been abandoned. Last year, a reported 18,000 Dall's porpoises were killed in Japan's coastal "fishery". A staggering 198,724 have been reported killed since the IWC's 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. In 1988, the year Japan complied with the moratorium, the kill of Dall's porpoises quadrupled to 40,000. In 1990, 22,000 Dall's were killed. The Scientific Committee was rightly concerned, and the Commission called for reductions to pre 1986 levels of 5-10,000. Japan did reduce the kill, by 15% and 30% in successive years, to around 11,000 in 1992.

However, since then it has rapidly increased to an average 16,000 per year, twice the limit recommended by the Scientific Committee, and wholly unsustainable.

The '88 and '89 catches (40,367 & 29,048) represented 38% and 28% of the estimated population. Furthermore, as Dall's are curious, bow-riding animals that readily approach boats, population estimates may be considerably exaggerated. The Dall's porpoise population off Japan is suffering the same gross over-exploitation that decimated the world's great whale populations.

While the IWC is locked in debate over the Irish "compromise", it should be remembered that even if limited coastal whaling was agreed, small cetaceans like the Dall's porpoise will continue to pay a high price, regardless. IWC members are morally responsible for the impact of their decisions on small cetaceans. The Dall's porpoise could easily be exterminated in Japanese waters if things carry on as they are. Japan must be pressed to reduce or stop this hunt before it's too late. To everyone familiar with the black and white beauty of the Dall's, quietly going about their business or rushing ahead of boats, surfing their bow wakes, the tragedy unfolding is more than enough to bring tears.

Eco is published on the occasion of the 50th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission by:

Animal Welfare Institute
Born Free Foundation
Caribbean Conservation Association
Cetacean Society International
Dolphin Connection
Dominica Conservation Association
Earth Island Institute
Environmental Investigation Agency
Friends of the Gray Whale
Global Animals Protection
Greenpeace International
Humane Society of the U.S.
The Humane Society of Canada
International Fund for Animal Welfare
OrcaLab/Pacific Orca Society
Swiss Coalition for the Protection of Whales Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
Whales Alive
World Wide Fund for Nature

ECO is funded entirely by nongovernmental contributions. The views expressed may not be those of each ECO sponsor. Editorial offices are in suite 811 of the Al Bustan Palace Hotel. Copies of ECO are available from Earth Island Institute, 300 Broadway , Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133

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