Portorož/Wädenswil, 25. Oktober 2016: An attempt by riparian states to implement a large-scale whale sanctuary in the Southern Atlantic Ocean failed.

The proposal, which was co-sponsored by the Government of Argentina, Brazil, Gabon, South Africa and Uruguay on the second day of the 66th conference of parties of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portorož received a clear majority (38 yes vs. 24 no votes with two abstentions), but not the three-fourths majority required. This is particularly due to a block of Caribbean and West African countries orchestrated in line with Japanese whaling policy, which blocked the wish of all riparian states to have a large whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic Ocean.

“This is not only a setback for whale conservation, but it also means discrediting the findings of the IWC’s own Scientific Committee, which assessed the proposal in detail and endorsed its scientific basis”, says Fabienne McLellan of OceanCare. She assumes that the opponents are driven primarily by political calculations: “It is not about data on the health of whale populations or about threats the animals are facing, but just about opposing an initiative by those countries, which see whale protection, not whaling, as the future of the IWC”, explains McLellan.

The proposed area should have spanned the Atlantic Ocean between South America and Africa south of the equator. It would have connected the Southern Ocean Sanctuary and the Indian Ocean sanctuaries. The proposal also for the first time included a detailed management plan addressing all the threats to cetaceans and aiming at both protecting the whales’ feeding and nursing grounds and migration corridors, and fostering research and cooperation among riparian states.

The proposal had been approved by the IWC’s Scientific Committee and was backed by African IWC members Gabon and South Africa. “The decision is an act of disrespect against a whole region working together. We hope that the proponents will nonetheless hold on to their plan in the long term”, says McLellan.

Latin American countries have tried to introduce a whale sanctuary within the IWC already since 1998. However, all the proposals have been defeated by those countries which regard whale meat as a contribution to human food security. There are 51 whale species inhabiting the waters of the South Atlantic Ocean. Some baleen whales pass this area on their migration between the Antarctic and tropical waters. Particularly the Southern right whale as well as humpback whales are endangered and threatened in this region.

The proposal had been backed by the IUCN World Conservation Congress. Brazil’s Minister of the Environment travelled to Slovenia to send a strong signal in the run-up to the vote. OceanCare supported the sanctuary in a joint statement with EIA, Greenpeace, IFAW, NRDC, Pro Wildlife, and WWF.

OceanCare is represented at the IWC conference in Slovenia by Nicolas Entrup and Fabienne McLellan, who frequently blog their experiences at the conference at oceancare.org/blog