Report from the WDCS Team at IWC 64. Monday afternoon
In the lunch break (and thank you Panama for continuing to feed us) less than ten NGOs of various types are seen to meet with Chairman Bruno. Viewed from a distance his gesturing is emphatic and he is probably explaining the rules to them and that he means to be strict. A little later a small delegate from the World Society for the Protection of Animals is seem nervously approaching him on the main stage. Perhaps she is seeking a little more than the five minutes she was be allotted. Around the big hall the audio technicians are seemingly incensed because someone seems to have cut the line between some of the microphones and in the entrance way to the hall a dangerous coffee spill has occurred on the now extra-slippery marble. Many delegates are negotiating in the pool.
The whole issue of whether non-governmental organisations should speak here has been a controversial one. In many other international fora comments from experts in non-governmental groups are welcomed. For example the voice of WDCS has been heard in the meetings of CITES and the Convention for Migratory Species in recent years. However, at the IWC we have got no further than experimenting in the last couple of meetings with very short comments from NGOs from ‘either side’ and these short comments have been little more than an opportunity for delegates to take a short comfort break.
The NGO interventions being planned this year will have to abide by the code of conduct for observers and not say anything inappropriate – which may mean not being critical of any contracting government. It is rumoured that a special seat is being developed for those making NGO interventions. It will be similar in design to a medieval catapult. In the event that an NGO commentator launching forth on a five minute intervention says something inappropriate, a member of the secretariat will be empowered to press a button that will shoot them high into the air and back into the NGO ranks at the wings of the main meeting room. Further to this plan, there was also allegedly some discussion about whether the NGOs could be shot at as they travel through the air and if so what weapons might be used. The cold harpoon being supported by some and others suggest a more humane approach such as a darting gun.
The meeting resumes and we return to the Sanctuary discussion which seemingly has not concluded. Norway wants to make a comment on South Atlantic Sanctuary. He notes that Brazil has said that it will come back with this proposal next year and he wishes to comment. This has been on the agenda for a long time and should be subject to a full and thorough review by the scientific committee. The Chair of the Scientific Committee reports that no items were raised on sanctuaries in her committee and the Chair of Conservation Committee notes that the second international conference about sanctuaries for marine mammals was held in Martinique earlier this year. He thanks sponsors and notes the special attention it paid to the critically endangered vaquita.
Many countries are now offered the floor but none of them actually want to speak. The new microphones are playing tricks on us. So we jump an agenda item and Japan starts to address us on the topic of the future of the IWC and mentions the potential for biannual commission meetings. The Russian federation says that as he is speaking for the first time he will thank the hosts [did he not speak earlier?]. He wishes the chair good luck during these difficult sessions. Having wished him good luck he notes that he does not fully agree with the chair that voting shows the commission works well. In his opinion it does not work well. And he would like to know which countries wish to still work on the future process. He proposes a ‘way forward’ that the working group on the future continues and whilst it does so, there should be no votes on sanctuaries and some other matters.
India now speaks – he is of the view that the moratorium should continue and IWC has been playing an important role in conservation of the whales. Perhaps he adds we should rename the convention as the International Whales Commission. Guinea extends felicitations and speaks of the obligation to work hard to save our Commission. He is pleased with the Scientific Committee and urges everyone to try to move forward and he reminds of the previous IWC Chairman Bill Hogarth who tried to avoid voting and work against the ‘impasse’. Australia likes our efforts on improved governance. She notes that the Commissioner from Japan spoke about biannual meetings and she agrees with him. The best way forward is to focus on those matters where agreement can be reached. She says the future group is over – its work is completed. It is over; it is over, she says over and over. The distinguished alternate commissioner for Argentina agrees. Significant progress has been made and now we start work on new issues, such as marine debris. Korea starts to speak and high pitched squeaking sears a few ear drums and he is told to remove his head phones. Korea reconfirms its commitment to conservation and sustainable use of resources. He thinks the current stalemate can only be met by working hard. Ecuador likes Argentina and Australia. Mexico says before voting on anything please think of all the closed processes that have failed here and he lists them starting with the Irish Proposal. He says let us build on common issues – and he too mentions marine debris.
Now Monaco speaks – he says that the future of the IWC is a ‘fragile construction’ but there are clear indicators of progress, for example in the work of the conservation committee. Our big problem is that our own resolutions are ignored by our members and here he refers to the resolutions to be discussed later in the week. He adds that a call to a vote is not a declaration of war. It is a normal democratic process. Chile next speaks up. He likes what many that have spoken before have said – he lists them and then on the issue of the controversy that relates to voting he sees no need to establish that voting is a declaration of war. The Chairman attempts to summarise that voting is an acceptable process. But Belgium wishes to say something. He wants to add to what has been said before. The procedure needs to be improved. We need to build our scientific capacity he adds enthusiastically. Bruno suggests he could be briefer. He says he will be more strict in the future and says that when he ‘throws the line’ that will be the end of it.
We finish discussion about the future of the IWC with no clear conclusion and move to Whale Stocks and Scientific Committee (SC) Chairman Debi Palka struggles to separate her head phones from the microphone and then tell us which part of the SC report we should be reading. Debi tells us we have at last an estimate for minke whales in the Southern Ocean. This has been many years coming. She adds that the current estimates are underestimates and there are at least two genetic stocks that meet at a ‘soft and sex-specific boundary’ (which sounds like a lot of fun). The Scientific Committee is trying to determine how the population is changing and Debi looks forward to telling us more next year or ‘when you guys meet’ and here she is referring to the possibility that the Commission will not meet next year but only the year after. Debi notes that Japan was trying to conduct a sighting survey this year and this was prevented by an [unnamed] protest group. Another survey is however planned. Chairman Bruno thanks Debi and her Scientific Committee for their hard work and asks for any comments.
Mexico is pleased that Antarctic minke whale estimates have been concluded and notes the possibility of a decline has been highlighted. Australia is similarly pleased and notes the importance of the circumpolar surveys and that sadly the ‘SOWER’ survey work is no longer continuing. She also notes the importance of the comprehensive harassment [Editor: ‘assessment’ I think] of other species and ongoing work in other fora. She also notes that there is a variety of interpretations of the apparent 30% decline between the last two surveys and that this emphasises the need to keep working on this in a non-lethal manner. There are some odd booms and then Japan expresses his heartfelt appreciation to the Scientific Committee and notes we have an estimate and the need to clarify further what is happening. [He does not make a commitment to non-lethal research.] India is interested in Antarctic humpbacks and further research which should include small cetaceans. Chair Bruno concludes and the Commission notes the Scientific Committee report and endorses any recommendations.
Debi now comments on the seven stocks of Antarctic humpbacks. Work has progressed well although Debi is concerned that calling the stocks A-G is not very imaginative. Many local humpback whale researchers were able to join the SC this year and Debi notes that this is a benefit of moving the meeting around the world. The Commission notes the Scientific Committee report and endorses any recommendations. The blue whales now move in. Debi tells us the latest information about them which includes new reports on Chilean blue whales. Chile notes blue whales were heavily hunted on her coastline and that the animals there may be a new subspecies. The Chilean navy have been helping in research and a partnership between different nations sharing photo-iD images exists.
The critically endangered Western north Pacific grays whales enter the hall. Several have been tagged off Sakhalin Island Russia. The anticipation was that they would migrate and breed to the south but to Debi (and everyone else’s) surprise they moved across the Pacific, one even going to Mexico. Some scientists have even suggested that the whales that used to migrate past Korea may now be extinct. Mexico notes that the gray whales in Baha California have recovered thanks to international cooperation; an important lesson he says and he congratulates Dr Bruce Mate who is in charge of tagging whales. Russia notes that the western gray whales population structures needs more work and that not all scientists agree there are separate populations. He reminds the meeting that there was a sighting of grey whales off Israel and Spain. It seems they are ‘restoring their historical settlements’ and returning to the North Atlantic. (There is some giggling from certain scientists still scattered as lurking variables around the room here.) He notes that it is true that oil companies are busy in Sakhalin but they are also putting much money into research. And they are governed by environmental impact assessments. A third oil platform is indeed planned and it has passed its environmental impact assessment. Local and international NGOs are also helpful. The UK urges that appropriate mitigation plans are put onto place especially if another platform is to be built and supports the IUCN western gray whale initiative and working group.
Southern right whales enter the halls. Argentina hopes we will have a population estimate soon and notes great effort is being made to achieve this. Other small stocks swim by facilitated by Debi’s soothing delivery. Then we come to the POWER cruises – research cruises to count, biopsy and photo-iD whales in the North Pacific. Japan now speaks to say that he hopes the IWC will continue to support these surveys and Japan promises to continue to cooperate as much as possible in these surveys. He thanks the US and Korean governments for their support. Debi has nothing under ‘other stocks’ and so the stocks issue is done for another year.
After afternoon tea and some more dangerous coffee spills we enter the complex and controversial world of aboriginal whaling with the report of the sub-committee that met last week. Austria (briefly mistaken for Australia) asks about the domestic situation with regards to the Makah hunt. The US says that hunt is subject to domestic environmental assessment and other factors. We move on to the issue of aboriginal needs. The report from the aboriginal subsistence whaling workshop last week is read and then Vincent and the Grenadines (St. V & G) now moves to answer a question from Argentina asked in the working group last week about whether samples from its humpback hunts had been taken from harvested whales. He says that samples have been sent to Japan where Dr Goto looked at them (considering 8 kinds of microsatellite loci). However, there were also some problems with the 2003-2006 samples when the preservation fluids they were in failed. The UK welcomes the submission of data and samples from the StV &G hunts. He encourages timely provision in the future and hopes whale welfare will be improved, including via participation in the appropriate working groups. Argentina asks St V and G about a second whale noted in the media and not in the official accounts. St V and G reminds the commission that the requirement is to report whales taken in the previous year (not this) and he has reported appropriately. One whale taken in 2012 was verified, sampled and samples sent to the US. The samples have been received and they are now interviewing the crews and will report any stuck and lost [and perhaps take] next year.
The Chairman now calls Australia. They believe that aboriginal subsistence whaling must follow the appropriate processes and they have previously noted their concerns about ad hoc advice. She seems to have some concerns about extending the quota. India notes its position – the IWC should work on reducing dependence on whales although India is highly conscious of the cultural and subsistence needs of peoples. They prefer whale watching and eco-tourism. Russia is concerned at this statement (could this be a rematch of last year) and notes that there is ‘no rice in the tundra’ – no alternative source of food. He recalls that India said something similar last year and that there was discussion between the two governments further to this and regrets this new statement from India and that this will lead to further discussion. St Vincent and the Grenadines says that he is a bit confused about the International Whaling Commission being concerned with phasing whaling out. His take is a very small one but other countries require these takes for their very survival. Guinea has similar sentiments.
Now comes Argentina and apologies for taking the floor once again. They do not object to aboriginal subsistence whaling when it meets the correct objectives as they understating them – it would be for subsistence purposes. He sat in the working group and we expressed two positions which he would now like to emphasise – we want to see catch limits in numbers and not tonnage. Tonnage presents many problems. It would be clearer to use numbers. [Greenland uses weight and not numbers.] Argentina also feels – especially if we move to biannual meetings – we should not move away from the five year block and especially for those populations where the limit has not yet been determined. In this sense we must express concern about the catches of St V & G and Greenland. They do not for us, he stresses, meet the definition of aboriginal subsistence whaling. They have a commercial element that is higher that would be allowed and he refers back to the comments made by the Dominican Republic in the Aboriginal working group.
The Chairman asks all parties if they could wait for the presentations of the countries asking for aboriginal subsistence whaling. Korea generally supports Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling but they have questions on the block quota presented jointed by St Vincent and the Grenadines, Greenland and the USA. He asks if the unused portion of the block quota should be carried forward. This requires careful consideration he says. Greenland wishes to counter the points from Argentina. We have heard a number of times that they cannot comprehend the conversion and he cannot understand why they keep asking this. This is a multispecies hunt and 660 tonnes is the human need. It can be satisfied by the various combinations of the species caught. We fulfil all criterias for both concepts. If anyone doubts it, they should read the Greenland paper. It is very informative and only 94 pages. There is some giggling. St.V & G wishes to respond to Australia about their hunt. Questioning their hunt and linking to something said by the Dominican Republic – oh sorry it was Argentina he clarifies. We have had a quota for 25 years. If for 25 years this body considers us not to be aboriginal then something has to be wrong with all of us, he adds very loudly, and certainly to bring this to the forum is ‘regressive and regrettable’ and it brings the question where is the future of the IWC?
Chile says the proposal covers six years so if we don’t know when the next meeting is we believe it is difficult to come to a decision. Monaco supports aboriginal whaling when it follows the rules but he shares the comments made by Argentina and he says over the years that St. V & G has never convincingly demonstrated convincingly the that it qualifies as aboriginal and he notes that he is one of the longest standing members of the Commission. The Chairman is now ‘throwing the line’ but will allow Mexico to speak. He supports Argentina, Chile and Monaco and adds that not even in the schedule is the St. V and G hunt listed as aboriginal. Belgium says he will not take a position now because he wishes to hear the presentations first. The scientific committee says the takes will not harm the stocks but there is more to quotas than this! And with that we adjourn and consider going to a reception. Please note that the WDCS blog strives for accuracy but is not verbatim nor an official record of what is said. We welcome corrections.