IWC Meeting Wrap-Up

Report, 30 June 1996, from William Rossiter, Great Whales Foundation

The 48th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ended in Aberdeen with the global moratorium on commercial whaling still firmly in place. However, the Commission faces a growing crisis over the continued polarization between the whaling countries (Norway and Japan), who are whaling against the IWC majority, and other countries including New Zealand, Australia and UK who have reaffirmed their view that the moratorium should stay in place permanently.

The following are some of the major results:

  • The IWC Scientific Committee ruled that the abundance estimate for the NE Atlantic minke whales, resulting from a survey carried out by Norway, is adequate for use in the RMP (Revised Management Procedure). It implies that if the moratorium is lifted, and the RMS (Revised Management Scheme) was agreed and put in place, then that abundance estimate could be used as the basis for calculating Norway's whaling quota. A key outstanding question with the RMS is an international system of supervision and control of whale catches. In the meantime, however, the acceptance of the abundance estimate by the IWC Scientific Committee should not be used for the setting of current quotas by Norway.
  • There was agreement that the surveys used in making population estimates for any future whaling quota should be under international scrutiny.
  • A resolution was passed calling on Norway to halt its whaling immediately. The Norwegian delegation walked out to avoid listening to this part of the discussion.
  • A strong resolution requesting Japan to halt its scientific whaling in the Souther Ocean Sanctuary was passed by a large majority. (In the last Antarctic season, Japan killed 440 minke whales in the Sanctuary.)
  • Japan's request, made for the 9th year, for an "interim quota" of 50 minke whales despite the moratorium was defeated by a stronger vote than in previous years. However, the issue was kept alive with agreement to hold a workshop before the 1997 IWC meeting.
  • A resolution on illegal whale meat trade was passed, seeking to address the problem of growing stockpiles of meat and blubber which can facilitate the "laundering" of illicit supplies coming from current and past whaling. "Illicit trade is back with a vengeance," said Cassandra Phillips, WWF's whale coordinator. "And with it, the fear of growing pirate whaling by nationals of countries other than Japan and Norway.
  • Conservationists welcomed the decision by the United States to defer a proposal for an aboriginal subsistence quota of 5 Gray whales for the Makah Indian tribe in Washington State in the Pacific Northwest. The subsistence need was not proven, and many concerns were left unresolved.
  • A resolution was passed encourging further non-lethal research on the links between marine pollution, global climate change, and the whale populations. WWF papers helped move this resolution.
  • The whale watching resolution went through by consensus. This endorses IWC's involvement with whale watching development.
  • The request by Russia for a quota of 5 bowhead whales as an aboriginal/subsistence catch was withdrawn when it failed to receive unanimous support.
  • A resolution on "Small cetaceans" (dolphins, porpoises and small whales) was agreed, particularly drawing attention to the plight of the highly endangered vaquita (Mexico) and baiji (Chinese river dolphin).
  • Strong concern was noted about the possibility of Canada (a non-member country of the IWC) issuig a license for aboriginal people to kill at least one bowhead whale from the highly endangered stock in Eastern Canada.

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