Earth Island Institute

ECO: The environmental voice at the IWC

ECO is published by Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Madeira, Portugal, on behalf of environmental and animal welfare organizations around the globe.

For further information, please contact: Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director, Earth Island Institute, International Marine Mammal Project.

Are Whale Eaters Girly Men?

Volume LXI · No. 3 · Madeira, Portugal · Wednesday June 24, 2009
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Some of the newest findings involving a number of pollutants now found in whale and dolphin meat (e.g. PCBs, dioxins, and PBDEs) suggest these chemicals act as hormone mimics. What this means is that the human body (and that of other mammals, including whales) may react to chemical pollution in the same way the body reacts to hormones that determine secondary sexual characteristics, or even the sex of an individual.

Most health scares are about toxic reactions and cancer inducing chemicals, but hormone mimics can be just as devastating.

For example, researchers note that sperm counts in Japanese males are decreasing, which may in part reflect their diet of fish and cetaceans from high trophic levels in the seas (and therefore having higher levels of contamination).

Another effect is a likely change in sex ratios. In northern Greenland, in recent years only female babies have been bornÑno males have been born. Studies suggest a strong correlation between PCB exposure and the sex ratios of babies. Further studies are in the works.

Eating Whale Meat Will Kill You

Volume LXI · No. 3 · Madeira, Portugal · Wednesday June 24, 2009
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Several new studies document, once again, the terrible health consequences of eating contaminated whale and dolphin meat.

Whales and dolphins are top-level predators in the seas, so any contamination tends to become concentrated at these high trophic levels, due to biological magnification of toxins at each trophic level.

Whale researcher Dr. Roger Payne held a press conference on Monday afternoon with Blue Voice and Whaleman Foundation to underscore the dangers of whale and dolphin meat to consumers.

Toxic contamination of fish and whale meat, stated Dr. Payne, is “likely the most important public health problem in Japan.”

Yet, whaling countries insist that whale meat is good for people, and refuse to limit public consumption of these toxic products.

Mercury is the most important toxin found in whale meat, particularly in the meat of dolphins and small cetaceans. Ironically, Japan suffered one of the world’s worst environmental disasters in the 1950’s from mercury-contaminated fish, dubbed Minamata disease. In some cases, dolphin and small whale meat tested by scientists have shown higher levels of mercury than the fish that caused the disastrous poisoning in Minamata.

Mercury poisoning destroys neural fibers in the brain and throughout the body, causing loss of memory, nerve damage, and death. Mercury is especially harmful to fetuses, resulting in massive retardation rates among babies.

PCBs and DDT are additional toxins often found in high concentrations in whale and dolphin meat. These toxins are insidious, causing harm to the brain, nervous system, and immune system.

Furthermore, new toxic products are starting to show up in whales and dolphins as well, posing new poisoning problems in the future.

All of which is bad for dolphins and whales, AND very bad for consumers of dolphin and whale meat.

Why do whaling countries ignore the adverse health impacts of their whaling industries? Why are the government health agencies silent about these deadly killers? Is promoting the profits from commercial whaling really more important than the health of their people?

Science Bulletin: Whales Don’t Deplete Fisheries

Volume LXI · No. 3 · Madeira, Portugal · Wednesday June 24, 2009
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A new report from the prestigious journal Science suggests that even eradicating all whales that presumably prey of fish does not, in fact, increase fish stocks for fisheries in the Caribbean or off Northwest Africa.

Indeed, by eliminating whales, fisheries may in fact be impoverished, due to the loss of structure in the complex oceanic ecosystem. The authors further point out that killing whales in these waters will preclude the use of whales for lucrative whale watching operations.

The report, “Should Whales be Culled to Increase Fishery Yield?” (Science 13 Feb. 2009) notes that, while their ecosystem models do not show much gain for fisheries by removing whales, the models show significant benefits to local fisheries from changes in fishing rates.

As global fisheries continue to take large quantities of fish for use in rich countries like Japan, the US, and Europe, local artisanal fisheries suffer. But if the countries involved are focused on whales as the problem, the local people lose twice. They lose the opportunity to enjoy wild whales and develop a whale watching industry, and they are diverted from the real problems their local fisheries are facing from overconsumption.

Of course, the Japan Fisheries Agency fully understands these realities, as they benefit from duping third world countries about impacts on local fisheries and impacts on local whales.

Oh No! Humpbacks on the Block Again!

Volume LXI · No. 3 · Madeira, Portugal · Wednesday June 24, 2009
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Japan, whch has refrained for two years from its threat to kill 50 humpbacks annually as part of its illegal and immoral “scientific” research slaughter in the Southern Ocean, is now using the humpbacks again to threaten the IWC.

Chairman William Hogarth claimed in 2007 that his efforts to work a deal with Japan resulted in Japan “showing good faith” by dropping plans to kill humpbacks. However, since Japan had not begun killing humpbacks, the gesture was hardly any strain on their part. Japan continued to kill minke and fin whales in the Southern Ocean, and even renewed importing whale products from Norway and Iceland during negotiations.

Japan refuses to say if they will target humpbacks or not, awaiting the outcome of the Madeira IWC meeting. But Japan and the world know that humpback whales form the basis of a multi-million dollar whale watching industry in Australia and New Zealand, as well as several South Pacific island countries, such as Tonga.

Killing 50 humpbacks annually in the Southern Ocean would not only deplete the humpback population, but would likely make the humpback whales that survive the chase far more wary of contact with whale watching boats.

Australia: Lawsuit Still an Option

Volume LXI · No. 3 · Madeira, Portugal · Wednesday June 24, 2009
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Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephen Smith, was quoted as stating that the government of Australia had not abandoned the idea of an international lawsuit against Japan over that country’s whaling.

Minister Smith told Australia’s Sky News: “If we get to the stage where we think our diplomatic efforts have been exhausted and we haven’t achieved our objective, then we continue to leave open the possibility and the prospect of international legal action, either before the International Court of Justice or the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.”

The World Court could find Japan in violation of international laws and norms, given the extensive commercial whaling activity disguised as “scientific research.”

Thank You, Australia!

Volume LXI · No. 2 · Madeira, Portugal · Tuesday June 23, 2009
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The government of Australia has been moving forward in several important ways to stop the misuse of science in the Southern Oceans while promoting non-lethal forms of research.

The government has put up 14 million Australian dollars to conduct research on whales and their ecosystem in the Southern Ocean, providing useful data untainted by commercial bias so clearly evident in Japan’s so-called “scientific” whaling operations. Plus the whales will still be alive after they are studied.

Australia is also proposing a number of changes to the Scientific Committee structure and process to help improve management and scientific information about key whale stocks and environmental problems.

We thank Australia for their enlightened efforts to protect and study whales, and we urge other governments to follow their lead this week at the IWC meeting.

And if the rumors are true that the United States delegation, full of Bush appointees and back-room dealmakers, are indeed criticizing the Australian delegation for their initiatives, shame on the US!

A Little Bit More History: Civil Society

Volume LXI · No. 2 · Madeira, Portugal · Tuesday June 23, 2009
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I was privileged to be elected during the IWC Special Meeting in Rome, earlier this year, as one of three Observers for NGOs to address the Plenary for a few minutes, courtesy of the Chairman. It was an interesting and, I think, successful experiment in producing a statement which practically all the NGOs concerned with environmental issues, conservation of marine life and those mainly interested in animal welfare could support. Many of them contributed to its drafting. The statement was not even treated as a part of the official record of the meeting, though copies are said to be available from the Secretariat.

But the statement was conceived and delivered in what I thought was a thoroughly unsatisfactory “environment”. Consider some history. In the very first years of the IWC a trickle of representatives of animal welfare organizations began to attend annual meetings. One in particular is remembered: Dr Harry Lillie, who had been the ship’s doctor on the British expedition Southern Harvester and was horrified by what he described as the cruelty of hunting and killing blue and fin whales with cannon and explosive grenade, many of them shot in the abdomen and taking an hour or more to die. He spoke at the meetings about this and wrote it up in an entrancing but saddening book: The Path Through Penguin City, published by Ernest Benn Ltd, London, in 1955 – the year the IWC abolished the baleen whale Sanctuary in the Southeastern sector of the Antarctic.

In the late 1960s, in the wake of the failure of IWC members to honor the commitment they made in 1960 to bring Antarctic baleen whale catches down at least to sustainable levels by 1964, a steady and growing stream of NGOs concerned with both conservation issues and animal welfare began attending IWC meetings. Each of them was allowed to express its views, hopes and demands by providing a written statement that became part of the IWC official record and, if it wished, to speak, usually in the opening plenary session. These statements, too, became part of the record of the IWC.

As concern by representatives of civil society increased through the 1970s and early 1980s this process took up excessive time, and there clearly had to be some change. A reasonable way might have been for a few to speak on behalf of the rest but, instead, the Commission simply banned such statements outright. Then even the written circulated statements became truncated and regulated until we reach the present situation of rules about what may be written (no criticism of named countries, for example), and no illustrations or glossiness.

I know of no other intergovernmental organization where the rules are so restrictive and authoritarian. Contrast this with other bodies. CITES is often cited as liberal in this respect, but my experience has been as an observer to FAO’s Committee on Fisheries, an authoritative body with more Member states than the IWC. As an Observer for an accredited NGO I can provide documents for circulation and I can ask - and get – the Chair’s permission to speak on any agenda item. The Chairman of course exercises his discretion, but in a reasonable way, provided the requests are reasonable and the timing of such interventions are facilitated by the Secretary of the Committee. Furthermore, Observers at COFI are provided with facilities such as microphones and interpretation devices, and sit at proper seats with table space. Their words are taken into account in the official reports of the session - as well as occasional responses to them from government delegates. And they are not required to contribute part of the expenses of keeping the United Nations running!

I suggest it is time for the IWC to move towards the way the UN conducts its business.
– Dr. Sydney Holt

Iceland: Big Whales versus Big Problems

Volume LXI · No. 2 · Madeira, Portugal · Tuesday June 23, 2009
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While Icelandic whalers haul in huge endangered fin whales from their new commercial hunt in the north Atlantic, economic and political forces are in motion that may well end the new commercial venture.

Iceland’s economy is in tatters, and the only hope to restore the destroyed banking system may be for Iceland to join the European Union. However, the EU is unlikely to welcome Iceland to their fold unless Iceland agrees to stop hunting the endangered whales.

Last Thursday evening, one of Iceland’s catcher boats hauled in two fin whales estimated to weigh 35 tonnes each. Fin whales were severely depleted by commercial whaling in its heyday, but Iceland has awarded itself the incredible quota of 150 fin whales, along with 100 minke whales for 2009. The slaughter is going on as the IWC is meeting, in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling. Last year’s quota was only 40 minke whales and nine fin whales, so the 2009 quota represents a huge jump in bloodshed.

Britain, France, Germany, and the United States have protested the increased quotas for Iceland’s defiant whaling industry.

Kristjan Loftsson, the head of Iceland’s whaling company, told AFP reporters that Iceland would likely have to give up whaling if it joined the EU. Loftsson himself is strongly opposed to having Iceland join the EU, seeing it as a threat to the Icelandic fishing industry.

In the meantime, with Iceland’s tourist industry hurting from the general economic climate, many Icelanders are wondering why the government is pursuing increased quotas for a few whales which is sure to raise the ire of environmentalists and lead to tourism boycotts? A number of companies in Europe that import resources from Iceland have contacted the government protesting the return to whaing.

Greenland’s Greedy Whaling Request

Volume LXI · No. 2 · Madeira, Portugal · Tuesday June 23, 2009
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Greenland is asking the IWC once again for permission to allow local kills of humpback whales for supposedly “aboriginal subsistence” uses, but, to coin a phrase, there’s something rotten in Denmark.

The subsistence whalers will be selling humpback meat in commercial markets throughout Greenland.

In a letter to the Commission signed by a number of NGO groups, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society point out:

Clearly, Greenland has to go back and redo the entire proposal for humpback whales, to ensure that the “aboriginal subsistence” provisions of the IWC are complied with, not flaunted.

In the meantime, the IWC should not approve this proposed hunt. Greenland should not be marketing humpback whale meat throughout Greenland via supermarkets nor inflating the needs for subsistence users.

The Cove is Coming

Volume LXI · No. 2 · Madeira, Portugal · Tuesday June 23, 2009
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The new award-winning documentary, “The Cove”, will be shown here at the IWC meeting in the hotel, Suite 403 at 8 PM on Tuesday evening, 10 PM on Wednesday evening (after the NGO reception), and all day Thursday. ECO will report further information on screenings of “The Cove” or ask you favorite NGO representative.

As ECO and others have documented time and time again, the Japan Fisheries Agency handles the truth very loosely.

Now, that reality is about to be presented to the world on the big screen.

“The Cove” is a new movie presenting an intense and inspiring experience. It received standing ovations in various film festival circuit theaters. It received the Audience Award at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, and has so far garnered further Audience Awards at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto, the Newport Film Festival, the Nantucket Film Festival, the Sydney International Film Festival, and the Seattle International Film Festival, plus Best of Festival at the Blue Ocean Film Festival.

Director Louie Psihoyos and the Oceanic Preservation Society made the film, which focuses on the work of Save Japan Dolphins Coalition and its Director, Richard O’Barry, to stop the annual slaughter of dolphins off the Japanese coast. This annual kill of 20-23,000 dolphins annually is conducted in the most horrific manner imaginable – the hunt is fully documented, along with the continued contempt the Japan Fisheries Agency has for the IWC and the truth.

“The Cove” will open in theaters in the US this summer; it will be shown worldwide this fall.

For further information, go to website, and “The Cove” movie action website

Updated IWC Lexicon

Volume LXI · No. 2 · Madeira, Portugal · Tuesday June 23, 2009
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Exclusively for our ECO readers, we have provided the following lexicon so you can understand some of the up-to-the-minute rhetoric coming out of the US delegation.

The Way Forward – A future IWC that protects and kills whales simultaneously.

The Future of the IWC – A way forward for the IWC that protects and kills whales simultaneously.

Win-Win – Protecting and killing whales simultaneously.

Accommodation – Allowing Japan to kill whales in their coastal area commercially, thus giving away the 20-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling, while allowing Japan to kill hundreds more whales under scientific permits in the Southern Ocean, all while claiming to oppose commercial whaling and “scientific” whaling. (See also Doublespeak.)

Packages – Secret deals that apparently nobody agrees with or wants to claim ownership of, but are still there chock full of “accommodations.” Used as a noun, a verb, and a substitute for thought.

Civil Society Involvement – NGOs can observe the meetings of the Small Working Group from now on, but cannot observe meetings of the Small Support Working Group, and of course, can observe nothing at all during “executive sessions” of IWC.

Whales – Large mammals that can be divided up into “the quick” and “the dead.” Also known as “lunch,” “natural resource,” “sources of scientific data,” “fisheries eaters,” and as excuses for expensive junkets to beautiful Atlantic island resorts.

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