26 June 2009

IWC Wraps Up For Another Year

The decision about Greenland’s aboriginal subsistence hunt was announced first thing on Thursday morning, but the meeting carried on throughout the day. The Scientific Committee (SC) Chair reported on the committee’s work with small cetaceans. The SC expressed concern about several populations, including common dolphins in the North Atlantic and the Vaquita in Mexico, which experience high levels of fisheries bycatch. The SC recommended that all fixed fishing gear in the Vaquita’s range be removed immediately because this species is on the verge of extinction. Australia pledged $500,000 to the SC’s studies of small cetaceans. Finland expressed concern about Japan’s unsustainable catch of Dall’s porpoise. In the past, there have been several IWC resolutions condemning this hunt, but nothing was proposed this year in an effort to avoid contentious issues and maintain consensus. Pro whaling nations stated their opinion that the IWC does not have jurisdiction over small cetaceans. These arguments have been on-going for years, the comments seem to be the same each year, but nothing seems to change.

Next on the agenda was the report of the Conservation Committee (CC). The CC Chair discussed “stinky” whales, which are gray whales captured in the Russian Federation’s aboriginal subsistence hunt that have such a strong, chemical odor in their meat that they are unusable. The cause of this smell is unknown. Although analyses are ongoing, scientists have found flame retardants in stinky whale tissues.

The CC Chair moved on to discuss ship strikes. New Zealand report sei whale ship strikes and the CC has plans to conduct research using aerial surveys and tags to learn more about this species. Several other nations, including Australia and Chile, also reported ship strikes. The U.S. reported on the ship strike mitigation measures for North Atlantic right whales along the east coast; speed limits were reduced to 10 knots in areas of known right whale use.

“The Cove” Is A Must See!

During the lunch break, I had the opportunity to see a screening of the movie “The Cove.” The Oceanic Preservation Society made this movie about the dolphin drive hunt in Taiji, Japan. The movie has received amazing reviews and actually won the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival this year. It was absolutely brilliant and I would highly recommend anyone with an interest in cetaceans to see it! The movie follows Ric O’Barry and his team as they risk being arrested to bring the story of these dolphins to the public. Make sure that you brace yourself for a very emotional experience. There are certainly scenes that are difficult to watch, but the movie doesn’t spend too much time on gratuitous violence and there is even humor thrown in along the way. Absolutely a must see! Check out the trailer on http://thecovemovie.com/.

Much of the rest of the day (actually the rest of the meeting, because we didn’t meet on Friday) was spent discussing business-related issues of the IWC (nothing that would be of interest to anyone except those directly involved). The one thing of note here was the election of important positions in the IWC. The IWC Chair, which has been Bill Hogarth of the U.S. for the last three years, will now be Cristian Maquieira of Chile (anti whaling). The Vice Chair will be Anthony Liverpool from Antigua & Barbuda (pro whaling). The Scientific Committee Chair position will also pass to Debbie Palka of the U.S. The Commissioner (Bill Hogarth) and Deputy Commissioner (Doug DeMaster) of the U.S. delegation have also attended their last IWC meeting. The Commissioner position will likely fall to Monica Medina who attended the meeting this year and who works for NOAA in Washington, but as far as I know there has not been an official announcement at this point. She comes from the NGO world so there is hope that she will be a stronger voice for the whales and will include the NGO community more than the previous delegation.

Final Thoughts

Once I return to the states and have time to mull over the past week, I’ll send out more detailed reflections of the meeting but here are a few thoughts I have right now. On the surface, it seems as though absolutely nothing was accomplished here in Madeira except the acquisition of interesting tan lines and a good deal of Madeira wine consumption by delegates from all over the world. When looking deeper, perhaps there a few small successes. Although Greenland’s proposal to take ten humpback whales was not voted down, it was also not approved. For now, the humpback whales in Greenland’s waters will continue to be safe. Japan’s small type coastal whaling, though discussed during the “future of the IWC,” was not approved by the commission; the whaling moratorium of 1982 still stands. The Scientific and Conservation Committees have done a lot of great work to better understand the world’s whale populations. Finally, climate change has become a topic of extensive conversation and concern (this is unfortunately not the case in many management meetings). Perhaps next year instead of “status quo,” we’ll actually make steps towards reducing whaling efforts in the world. Only time will tell.