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 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.

Previous volumes of ECO are available here.


Volume LXIV · Panama City, Panama · No. 1 · Monday July 2, 2012
Acrobat .pdf of issue

Bowheads: The Elephant in the Room

Once again, the US is up in arms about the need for the IWC to focus on bowhead whales and their subsistence harvest by a handful of villages on Alaska’s north coast. The awarding of the quota is not particularly controversial, with good management of the hunts by the US and the Inuit people, and a healthy and apparently recovering bowhead population. Some animal welfare NGOs have urged an end to the hunts, concerned with the suffering of bowheads.

But the US delegation will scramble and beg for adoption of this quota, and Alaska’s Senators and the one Representative have already introduced legislation to bypass the IWC should the IWC fail to adopt the quota, and one can only stand by and scratch one’s head in perplexity.

The US has “bundled” the bowhead quota with quotas for subsistence whaling by Russia for gray whales and by St. Vincent and Grenadines for humpback whales. “Bundling” is a diplomatic term meaning: “Give Our Enemies a Harder Target to Shoot At,” under the assumption that opposition will be blunted if a unified stand is presented. Sort of like a big school of fish confusing and foiling a hungry shark.

And who is this dark predator that would threaten the good ol’ USA and its bowhead quota? One need only look to Resolution 64/9 proposed (once again) by Japan to establish commercial whaling off Japan’s shores.

Five years ago, at the IWC meeting in Anchorage, Japan blocked approval of the US bowhead quota in retaliation for opposition to Japan’s commercial whaling proclivities.

The US spent the next five years conducting excruciating negotiations on “the future of the IWC,” seeking a deal with Japan to allow coastal whaling once again, ostensibly in return for less whaling in the Antarctic. Those negotiations could not be reconciled with the opposition to commercial whaling held by other nations. With the US talking commercial whaling, it was left to Australia, the European Union, and many Latin American nations to oppose any breach of the IWC moratorium. The talks failed, and Japan still does not have its commercial quota.

Of course, Japan continues to kill these whales, claiming scientific research as the reason for the killing.

Will Japan do the same this year?

Evidently, the US delegation is in full bowhead mode, ensuring continued discussions long into the night for a quota for Alaska. Will new dirty deals surface, trading off one species of whales for another?