by Robbins Barstow, CSI Director Emeritus

Worldwide Opposition to Whaling

In 1982 the IWC established zero kill quotas for the commercial killing of all listed whale stocks, to become effective in 1986. Every year since then, this international determination has been upheld, despite strong efforts by Norway, Japan, and Iceland to have incorporated into the IWC schedule a Revised Management Procedure (RMP) under which new kill quotas would be authorized based upon a complex formula developed by the IWC's Scientific Committee designed to provide for sustainable harvesting at minimal risk. Each year worldwide opposition has grown to the resumption of whale killing for profit under any circumstances.

In the spring of 1993, both houses of the United States Congress unanimously adopted a resolution (H. Con. Res. 34) calling for the United States to oppose "any resumption of commercial whaling." At the May 1993 meeting of the IWC in Kyoto, Japan, the United States and 17 other countries, including Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, just said "No" to a Revised Management Scheme resolution proposed by Norway and Japan which would have said "Yes" to renewed, "science-based" commercial whale kill quotas.

Surely, the time has come for the IWC to acknowledge the global political reality of near universal opposition to whaling, and for member governments to avoid the stigma of voting for any plan to authorize even limited whale killing for profit. Rather, the IWC should concentrate its energies now on the non-lethal study, conservation, and management of whale stocks as best fulfilling its Convention mandate to provide for the "optimum utilization of the whale resources."

Unique Status of Whales

It needs to be borne in mind that whales occupy a unique political status. No other living resource on earth is under the same kind of multi-national rule as whales are. Since the signing of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946, it has been determined and recognized that whales are an international resource, not a national one. They come under the global jurisdiction of the Commission established by the treaty to conserve and manage them, and they are not subject to any individual country's arbitrary, unilateral use. Unlike land animals, they dwell and migrate in open seas as part of the "common heritage" of all humankind.

Decisions regarding the management and utilization of whale resources, whether for their exploitation or for their protection, must not be made unilaterally by any one nation, but must be made collectively by member nations of the IWC.

In keeping with Article 65 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Agenda 21 of the UN 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development calls for all states to "recognize the responsibility of the International Whaling Commission for the conservation and management of whale stocks and the regulation of whaling" pursuant to the 1946 Convention.

Three Strong Reasons

Thus the political issue of whether or not whales should be commercially harvested in any waters, at any time, under any circumstances is one to be decided by the will of the world's people, as represented in the IWC, whose 40 member nations represent the overwhelming majority of humankind today. There are at least three, strong, practical reasons backing up the political reality of global opposition to commercial whaling. There are three major considerations justifying the rejection by the Commission, for the foreseeable future, of any Revised Management Procedure for authorizing commercial kill quotas, no matter how carefully devised. They are:

  1. The Unreliability of Take Figures;
  2. The Unenforceability of Catch Limits; and
  3. The Unpredictability of Environmental Impacts.

The Unreliability of Take Figures

In February 1994 the International Fund for Animal Welfare (EFAW) made publicly available an article by Ernst Cherny, who as a younger man had taken part in Soviet whaling expeditions and is now Chairman of the Union of Independent Fishery Workers of the Russian Federation. In this article Cherny details extensive illegal activities by Soviet whaling fleets during the 1960's, when, he asserts, "the hunting of protected species, whaling in protected areas and periods, total extermination of entire herds and even of populations -- all of these were commonplace."

Moreover, Cherny reports, "the information on violations of rules contained in official Soviet reports to the IWC bore no resemblance to reality... All information about Soviet whaling was false, and the conclusions based upon it erroneous." He contrasts specific figures submitted to the IWC by the USSR Ministry of Fisheries with actual take figures recorded by scientific groups that were aboard whaling fleets, as follows:

"To illustrate this let me compare the real data from the reports of the scientific groups with the official IWC data. During the 1961/62 season, according to the scientific group aboard the Sovjetskaya Rossiya, 1568 humpback whales were killed by that one expedition; the official report says that in that season only 270 whales were killed by all four Soviet fleets together! The scale of lying and falsification is staggering. In 1963/64 the Sovjetskaya Rossiya fleet killed 530 blue whales; the report to IWC tells only of 74 whales of this species taken by all four fleets. There are many more examples. As one would guess, the 1961/62 report says nothing about the 1,200 right whales killed by the Sovjetskaya Ukraina." (Quoted from "Commercial Whaling: a Corrupt Industry," IFAW Technical Briefing 94:6, February 1994, pages 7 & 9.)

This report clearly invalidates many of the historical take figures upon which the IWC Scientific Committee based calculations used in formulating its proposed Revised Management Procedure. It also throws a cloud of suspicion over other historical catches reported to the IWC, and raises the question of whether accurate enough figures of whales taken globally throughout the past history of the IWC can be secured at this point to properly project future population figures.

The Unenforceability of Catch Limits

The same data cited by Cherny highlight the second reason why the IWC should not adopt a Revised Management Procedure authorizing future catch limits. They would be practically impossible to enforce. In view of the record, the only way to provide any reliable assurance of accuracy in reporting whales taken would be to have non-national observers aboard every whaling ship. This would involve all-but-prohibitive logistical and cost factors.

Moreover, once any commercial whaling is legitimized, all whaling will claim to be legitimate. If all whale killing for profit is banned, then any whale products marketed are illegal. But if quotas, however limited, are authorized anywhere, then pirate whaling and outlaw trading can be effectively camouflaged.

With zero quotas in place, any whale marketing is observably prohibited. But once an IWC plan for non-zero catch limits is adopted, whaling for profit will take off under IWC aegis and whale management restraints will be unable effectively to be maintained.

The Unpredictability of Environmental Impacts

The third reason for just saying "No" to any plan for commercial whaling is the increasing threat of highly unpredictable environmental factors now enveloping the world's oceans and the whales' habitat. Two resolutions unanimously adopted by the IWC in 1993 underscore the seriousness of this problem and the overriding need for "Research on the Environment and Whale Stocks" and "The Preservation of the Marine Environment."

A report recently published by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) highlights "The Environmental Crisis Threatening the World's Whales," outlining such major concerns as pollution, mass mortalities, global warming, proliferation of toxic algal blooms, driftnet by-catches, and ozone destruction, particularly in the Antarctic region. The unknown cumulative impact of all these factors demands a precautionary approach to whale management today and precludes the adoption of any Revised Procedure allowing catch limits other than zero.

Unreasonable Science

All of the above considerations call into question the credibility of the "science-based" nature of proposed new management regimes which would allow renewed whale killing quotas. Moreover, there are many scientists today who believe that, "from a scientific point of view," it is not "reasonable" to authorize the needless slaughter of thousands of whales for purely commercial purposes, however statistically sustainable, as the proposed IWC RMP would do. At the conclusion of the article by Russian commentator Ernst Cherny cited above, he notes that "discussion about a revival of the Antarctic whaling industry has started, and the danger of new pirate actions in the world's oceans is still there." He concludes by asserting: "Prohibiting a revival of whaling is almost the only means of preserving these animals and the unique Antarctic ecosystem, which is a universal treasure for all humankind."

Principle and Practicality

The basic issue to be decided is whether or not to legitimize the renewed commercial killing of whales. There can be no real compromise on this matter of principle. In his January 20, 1993, inaugural address, United States President William Clinton, in discussing world affairs, made reference to what he called "the will and conscience of the international community." In my view, it is precisely the role of the International Whaling Commission to define and express the "will and conscience of the international community" in relation to the killing of whales for profit.

If this will, by strong majority, is that whales should not be killed at all for commercial gain, then it would be hypocritical for the Commission to adopt any Revised Management Procedure establishing mechanisms for authorized commercial whaling. As a matter of political principle, the Commission should just say "No" to any such proposal, whether coming from its Scientific Committee or any contracting government.

At the same time, as a matter of practicality, there are substantial pragmatic and scientific reasons for the Commission to reject any RMP at this time and for the foreseeable future. As stated above, they include the unreliability of take figures, the unenforceability of catch limits, and the unpredictability of environmental impacts.

New Era Responsibilities

Coming agenda for future Annual Meetings of the IWC, is replete with new and continuing responsibilities to keep the Commission fully occupied well into the era of the 21st century. Items include extended benign research and the comprehensive assessment of whale stocks, aboriginal subsistence whaling, mechanism to address small cetaceans, whale sanctuary in the southern ocean, scientific permits, research on the environment and whale stocks, the responsibility of IWC for the conservation and sustainable use of whale resources, and whale watching.

All of these challenge the Commission to lead the world in leaving commercial whale killing behind and moving ahead to a new era of non-lethal study, conservation, and management of whale stocks as best fulfilling the Convention's mandate to provide for the optimum utilization of the whale resources.

Robbins Barstow, CSI Director Emeritus
e-mail: robbinsb AT

(Reproduced from "Whales Alive!" April 1994 -- Published by Cetacean Society International, P.O. Box 953, Georgetown, CT 06829.)

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