Portorož, 20th October 2016. From 24th to 28th of October, 2016, Portorož (Slovenia) hosts the conference of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Preliminaries already start today, 20th of October. 2016 marks the 30th anniversary of the entry into force of the global moratorium on commercial whaling, which saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of whales over this period. OceanCare participates at the conference to defend the moratorium, which is one of the major achievements of species conservation. OceanCare criticises that the escalating commercial whaling in European waters is not on the agenda of the IWC conference and works to prevent any further undermining of the moratorium. Key issues at the conference will be scientific whaling, which is continuing in defiance of a ruling by the International Court of Justice, and the proposal for a large whale sanctuary in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. OceanCare welcomes that the IWC is increasingly addressing global environmental threats and seeking to take measures to protect all cetacean species. OceanCare is taking part in the conference as an observer and will regularly report from the conference via blog.

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) was signed 70 years ago. Its biggest success, the global ban on commercial whaling, is in place for 30 years now and saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of whales. “It is an outstanding success of the global species conservation movement”, says Nicolas Entrup, representing OceanCare at the IWC conference together with Fabienne McLellan. “However, we don’t really feel like celebrating as long as three countries undermine this ban. And while Japan and Iceland have been heavily criticised both in media and at a diplomatic level, the public barely noticed that Norway silently developed into the world’s largest whaling nation.” Currently there are more large whales being killed in European waters (by Norway and Iceland) than in the rest of the world. “Regrettably, the escalating whaling in Europe is missing from the IWC’s official conference agenda”, criticises Entrup.

Europe’s silence challenged

Norway and Iceland, two countries neighbouring the EU, keep hunting whales commercially, systematically ignoring the IWC’s moratorium on whaling and the CITES ban on trade in whale products. Recent export data shows that both countries are further expanding their whale meat trade with Japan. It is already 15 years since the IWC for the last time condemned Norway’s whaling. “We need a strategy of pro-whale nations, notably within the EU, to convince their neighbours to stop whaling”, says Entrup, who has been taking part in IWC conferences for 16 years.

Dispute over Japan’s ‘scientific’ whaling

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague condemned Japan’s whaling in the Antarctic in 2014 for its lack of scientific basis and demanded that Japan ends this programme. However, Japan only plans to reduce the quota for its so-called ‘scientific whaling’ in the Antarctic. The criteria for being regarded as ‘scientific’ are constantly subject to intensive debates at IWC conferences. “We need a transparent, internationally recognised review process for determining the scientific standards of Japan’s whaling programme”, says Fabienne McLellan, in charge of international relations at OceanCare. “In its current form, Japan’s new whaling programme is in breach of the ICJ’s ruling as well as of the IWC’s requirements for scientific whaling”, she adds. Australia and New Zealand will take this up and clarify this issue.

Coastal whaling – a worrying development

Japan is pushing the IWC for years to legalise whaling in the Northwest Pacific and to accept it as a new category “small type coastal whaling” – under the pretence of the coastal communities urgently needing food supplies from the seas, the Japanese wish to gain recognition of small type coastal whaling. Up to now, Japan’s arguments always failed, but another attempt is to be expected at this year’s conference. In an interview published in June 2016, Joji Morishita, Japan’s commissioner to the IWC, vice chair of the IWC and designated candidate for the IWC chair for the next two years, suggested that Japan might possibly cancel its Antarctic whaling, if coastal whaling would be accepted. However, whaling in coastal waters is in fact a form of commercial whaling which is banned since 1986. This is a dangerous development that might undermine the whaling moratorium as a whole. “The future of whale protection must not degenerate into a trade-off”, McLellan comments.

A whale sanctuary in the Southern Atlantic Ocean
Once again a group of South American countries – led by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay – together with African states Gabon and South Africa will present a proposal for a whale sanctuary in the Southern Atlantic Ocean, including a management plan that sums up all the threats to cetaceans. If approved, it would be the third whale sanctuary established by the IWC, following the ones in the Antarctic and the Indian Oceans. “It is crucial to foster cooperation between countries on both sides of the Southern Atlantic in terms of cetacean conservation,” says McLellan. “The proposal for a whale sanctuary offers a perfect opportunity.”

Global threats – including for small cetaceans – on the agenda

While dolphins and small whales until now are not formally covered by the IWC, the forum also deals with a broad range of environmental threats to both large and small cetaceans, including underwater noise, marine debris, climate change, ship strikes, detanglement and bycatch. OceanCare further welcomes all animal welfare efforts, namely improve killing methods to reduce the suffering. This is another important contribution to animal welfare by the IWC conference.

Sigrid Lüber, president of OceanCare, recapitulates: “Safeguarding the ban on commercial whaling in the long term enables the IWC to reform itself and to live up to the challenges of cetacean conservation in the 21st century. From intensive worldwide whaling after the 2nd World War to present-day conservation of the marine giants – this development has the potential to become a real success story.”

OceanCare will be represented at the IWC conference in Slovenia by Nicolas Entrup and Fabienne McLellan, who will regularly blog (in German) about their experiences at the conference.