The 61st IWC Meeting, Madeira, Portugal

Eco, 2009 Volume LXI - Part 3

Hogarth Deal: The Bowhead Connection

So, why is the US delegation working so hard to make a deal with Japan that will allow continued so-called “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean and allow new commercial whaling in Japan’s coastal waters on the depleted J Stock of minke whales on top of the 20,000+ small cetaceans Japan now kills each and every year?

The key to this puzzle rests not in the whaling countries, nor in US public opinion, nor in the US Congress, nor in the US courts. It all lies north at the frozen edge of the continent in Alaska.

Alaska’s Inuit have been killing bowhead whales for centuries to provide food for their people. Unlike Japan’s so-called “cultural” whaling or “scientific” whaling, none of the Alaskan bowhead meat is sold in stores for a profit – the meat and blubber is all shared by the tribes on Alaska’s north slope.

The Alaskan subsistence hunt for bowhead whales has been extensively debated at the IWC and is now well accepted as a sustainable hunt for subsistence purposes.

But that has not stopped Japan and its client countries from using the bowhead whale hunt and the lives of the Inuit as a bargaining chip for their own whaling industry.

So, two years ago at the Alaskan meeting of the IWC, US IWC Commissioner and Commission Chairman William Hogarth approached the Japanese to reach a deal. The secret deal, as noted in ECO No. 1, was based on allowing Japan to start killing whales in their coastal waters for commercial purposes while also allowing (supposedly at a lower level) continued “scientific” whaling in the Southern Ocean. The deal fell apart when Japan refused to reduce the number of whales they expected to kill in both their coastal waters and the Southern Ocean, a “compromise” several countries in the negotiations could not stomach.

But there was someone else standing in the shadows. That “someone” was Senator Ted Stevens, a powerful Republican in Congress who represents Alaska and supports the bowhead hunt. In his capacity as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Stevens held the budget of the Dept. of Commerce and William Hogarth’s National Marine Fisheries Service in the palm of his hand. And he was well known for exacting political revenge from those who displeased him.

The rumor is that Senator Stevens himself approached the Japanese government, assuring them that the US would support their whaling activities in exchange for them agreeing not to block the bowhead quota renewal for Alaska in the 2010 IWC meeting.

(Senator Stevens’ support for the Inuit’s subsistence whaling is strange, as he also is a major advocate for the oil industry and supporter of offshore oil drilling off Alaska’s North Slope. He famously publicly threatened retaliation to fellow Senators who failed to vote in favor of opening up the coastal area of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. Senator Stevens’ sad policy on oil drilling now threatens both the habitat of the bowhead whales with pollution and drilling noise and the villages of Inuit with inundation from rising sea levels due to global warming, spurred by burning of oil.)

But Senator Stevens held power during the Presidency of George Bush. A scandal involving the payment of thousands of dollars for renovation of Stevens’ private home in Anchorage by a local oil company owner led to Stevens leaving the Senate in 2008, while President Bush has been replaced by President Obama.

Unfortunately, President Obama’s Administration is nowhere to be found in Madeira. The Bush appointees are still in charge of the US IWC delegation.

Where is President Obama, and why isn’t he reining in the US delegation’s sellout to Japan?

Are Whale Eaters Girly Men?

Some of the newest findings involving a number of pollutants now found in whale and dolphin meat (e.g. PCBs, dioxins, and PBDEs) suggest these chemicals act as hormone mimics. What this means is that the human body (and that of other mammals, including whales) may react to chemical pollution in the same way the body reacts to hormones that determine secondary sexual characteristics, or even the sex of an individual.

Most health scares are about toxic reactions and cancer inducing chemicals, but hormone mimics can be just as devastating.

For example, researchers note that sperm counts in Japanese males are decreasing, which may in part reflect their diet of fish and cetaceans from high trophic levels in the seas (and therefore having higher levels of contamination).

Another effect is a likely change in sex ratios. In northern Greenland, in recent years only female babies have been bornÑno males have been born. Studies suggest a strong correlation between PCB exposure and the sex ratios of babies. Further studies are in the works.

Eating Whale Meat Will Kill You

Several new studies document, once again, the terrible health consequences of eating contaminated whale and dolphin meat.

Whales and dolphins are top-level predators in the seas, so any contamination tends to become concentrated at these high trophic levels, due to biological magnification of toxins at each trophic level.

Whale researcher Dr. Roger Payne held a press conference on Monday afternoon with Blue Voice and Whaleman Foundation to underscore the dangers of whale and dolphin meat to consumers.

Toxic contamination of fish and whale meat, stated Dr. Payne, is “likely the most important public health problem in Japan.”

Yet, whaling countries insist that whale meat is good for people, and refuse to limit public consumption of these toxic products.

Mercury is the most important toxin found in whale meat, particularly in the meat of dolphins and small cetaceans. Ironically, Japan suffered one of the world’s worst environmental disasters in the 1950’s from mercury-contaminated fish, dubbed Minamata disease. In some cases, dolphin and small whale meat tested by scientists have shown higher levels of mercury than the fish that caused the disastrous poisoning in Minamata.

Mercury poisoning destroys neural fibers in the brain and throughout the body, causing loss of memory, nerve damage, and death. Mercury is especially harmful to fetuses, resulting in massive retardation rates among babies.

PCBs and DDT are additional toxins often found in high concentrations in whale and dolphin meat. These toxins are insidious, causing harm to the brain, nervous system, and immune system.

Furthermore, new toxic products are starting to show up in whales and dolphins as well, posing new poisoning problems in the future.

All of which is bad for dolphins and whales, AND very bad for consumers of dolphin and whale meat.

Why do whaling countries ignore the adverse health impacts of their whaling industries? Why are the government health agencies silent about these deadly killers? Is promoting the profits from commercial whaling really more important than the health of their people?

Science Bulletin: Whales Don’t Deplete Fisheries

A new report from the prestigious journal Science suggests that even eradicating all whales that presumably prey of fish does not, in fact, increase fish stocks for fisheries in the Caribbean or off Northwest Africa.

Indeed, by eliminating whales, fisheries may in fact be impoverished, due to the loss of structure in the complex oceanic ecosystem. The authors further point out that killing whales in these waters will preclude the use of whales for lucrative whale watching operations.

The report, “Should Whales be Culled to Increase Fishery Yield?” (Science 13 Feb. 2009) notes that, while their ecosystem models do not show much gain for fisheries by removing whales, the models show significant benefits to local fisheries from changes in fishing rates.

As global fisheries continue to take large quantities of fish for use in rich countries like Japan, the US, and Europe, local artisanal fisheries suffer. But if the countries involved are focused on whales as the problem, the local people lose twice. They lose the opportunity to enjoy wild whales and develop a whale watching industry, and they are diverted from the real problems their local fisheries are facing from overconsumption.

Of course, the Japan Fisheries Agency fully understands these realities, as they benefit from duping third world countries about impacts on local fisheries and impacts on local whales.

Oh No! Humpbacks on the Block Again!

Japan, whch has refrained for two years from its threat to kill 50 humpbacks annually as part of its illegal and immoral “scientific” research slaughter in the Southern Ocean, is now using the humpbacks again to threaten the IWC.

Chairman William Hogarth claimed in 2007 that his efforts to work a deal with Japan resulted in Japan “showing good faith” by dropping plans to kill humpbacks. However, since Japan had not begun killing humpbacks, the gesture was hardly any strain on their part. Japan continued to kill minke and fin whales in the Southern Ocean, and even renewed importing whale products from Norway and Iceland during negotiations.

Japan refuses to say if they will target humpbacks or not, awaiting the outcome of the Madeira IWC meeting. But Japan and the world know that humpback whales form the basis of a multi-million dollar whale watching industry in Australia and New Zealand, as well as several South Pacific island countries, such as Tonga.

Killing 50 humpbacks annually in the Southern Ocean would not only deplete the humpback population, but would likely make the humpback whales that survive the chase far more wary of contact with whale watching boats.

Australia: Lawsuit Still an Option

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, was quoted as stating that the government of Australia had not abandoned the idea of an international lawsuit against Japan over that country’s whaling.

Minister Smith told Australia’s Sky News: “If we get to the stage where we think our diplomatic efforts have been exhausted and we haven’t achieved our objective, then we continue to leave open the possibility and the prospect of international legal action, either before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.”

The World Court could find Japan in violation of international laws and norms, given the extensive commercial whaling activity disguised as “scientific research.”

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