At its last meeting in 2018, the IWC adopted the «Florianópolis Declaration» setting the course for maintaining the ban on commercial whaling and a more conservation orientated focus fit for the 21st century. It acknowledged that whales today face an array of threats that go way beyond hunting practices – such as plastic pollution, by-catch in fishing gear, ship strikes, ocean noise and overlaying it all: climate change.
As a direct result of this landmark decision Japan, who tried for many years to lift the 1986-moratorium on commercial whaling, left the Whaling Commission, the internationally recognised body for the management and conservation of whale populations, in protest in 2019. However, far from leaving it at that, Japan has been very prominent ever since and is back at the current meeting in Slovenia, officially as «observer», but seemingly still pulling the strings trying to overturn the moratorium.
A small group of countries, led by the Caribbean Island State, Antigua & Barbuda, seem to ignore the IWC’s previous decisions and have lined up proposals which in particular run counter to what was decided in the Florianópolis Declaration. Despite having no whaling industry nor a real whaling tradition themselves, Antigua and Barbuda being long-lasting supporters of Japan’s pro-whaling initiatives, provide testimony of the continued influence Japan has.
The core initiatives and their proponents to achieve the goal of dismantling the Florianópolis Declaration are:
As Fabienne McLellan, Managing Director of OceanCare, points out: «Sustainable whaling» is a concept that does not exist in reality. To increase the ocean’s contribution to food security means protecting healthy ecosystems, and not taking out the top of the food web.»
All these initiatives will result in difficult and lengthy discussion that will distract from the continued commercial whaling activities in Norway and Iceland.
These pro-whaling proposals come at a time, when scientists have already rung loud alarm bells about the consequences that the climate crisis will have on the oceans as the home to whales: many populations will dramatically decrease just because of major changes in temperatures, currents, food availability and the like.
OceanCare warns that any continued delay in tackling these major threats to whales and their habitats will only lead to an increased break down of marine ecosystems as the bases for global food security.
«Instead of losing precious time with decade-old debates about fabricated scenarios like «sustainable whaling» and false solutions to «food security» the IWC should urgently take up the real pressing issues: climate change and plastic pollution.» says Nicolas Entrup, OceanCare’s Director for International Relations. «The IWC’s own Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee have done great work to highlight these problems and point the way how to tackle them. It is this spirit of the Florianópolis Declarartion which is the way forward for a modern, conservation oriented IWC.»