Notes from the 51st IWC meeting in Grenada
By Paul Spong and Ben White - May 27, 1999
A Matter of Opinion: Thar she blows
Orca researcher and activist Paul Spong and whale conservationist Ben White are attending the International Whaling Commission meetings in Grenada and offer some behind the scenes glimpses of what is going on - and of course some opinions. Here are excerpts from their dispatches.
The greatest thing about portraying yourself as an underdog is being able to nip at the heels of those who bother you. So it was that the 51st meeting of this revered organization soon got into a dog fight over the presence of certain NGOs in the room. Japan started it a few months ago when it threatened to have Greenpeace ejected because it used direct action tactics against Japanese whalers on their way to the killing fields of the Antarctic Sanctuary. Direct action? Civil disobedience?
Good lord, we can't allow that ... better toss those bums out! Next came WDCS who slipped by letting some of the dark secrets from the (inhumane) killing methods workshop loose on their web site. Spreading the truth? Good lord, we can't allow that ... better toss those bums out too. IFAW got the nod next, having transgressed by revealing the content of a paper submitted to the Scientific Committee. Wow.
What followed was a semi-brutal assault by Japan that left Greenpeace standing tall with the support of a clear majority of IWC members (vote: 22/9/3). Not unnoticed was France's eloquent defense of Greenpeace tactics. The upshot of it all was a U.S. sponsored resolution inviting NGOs even further in. Perhaps surprisingly, it passed with another clear majority (vote: 24/9/4). Yahoo. Now we can really get involved. Thanks Japan!
Filing one frivolous procedural motion after another, Japan brought the IWC meeting to a screeching halt on its first day of plenary session. Impeding all forward motion for an entire day, Japan clearly trespassed on the intellectual property, time and patience of those in attendance.
The first diversion lasted until 2 p.m. This involved the persistent questioning of the legitimacy of other delegates' credentials, an interesting opening gambit. Many speakers, including the prime minister of Grenada, prefer opening with a joke.
Even when the chairman assured Japan that the credentials were in order, they responded that they might believe him if they could see for themselves.
Then came the resurrected debate over the use of secret ballots to hide Caribbean pro-whaling votes. The honorable representative from Antigua-Barbuda gave an eloquent explanation as to why allowing governments to become less accountable to their people defends democracy.
The secret ballot failed except, out of mercy, when IWC officers are being elected.
After the attack on NGOs that are naughty, that old standby of Japan, their small scale coastal whaling proposal, was introduced. For the 12th year running, the idea was rejected, but by a narrow 14 to 12 vote.
Decrying the demise of the IWC while working to ensure it continues to hobble along appears to be the whalers' current strategy.
B.C. natives claim whaling right
That's not our headline, it comes from the Times Colonist of Victoria, British Columbia, a couple of days after the Makah tribe of Washington state killed their first gray whale in 75 years. That's how long it took for B.C. natives to proclaim what we knew would come: their demand to be allowed to kill whales because of their long-time cultural ties to the practice.
The B.C. government quickly denounced the idea, but federal Canadian politicians ducked, saying the courts have to decide. Given the thousands of aboriginal people from around the world who've flooded into Neah Bay, we know one outcome ... that slippery slope is out of control. What happens next is anyone's guess.
We're not sure if it's the heat or the friendly environment that induces such a relaxed mood here, but ducking issues appears to be fast becoming the way of the day.
Example: We came here totally expecting this meeting to make it clear to the world that the IWC has not sanctioned the killing of gray whales by the Makah. Guess again. As far as we can determine, no one, no one is prepared to push the Makah issue at this meeting.
Why? "Bilateral considerations". That's diplospeak for other issues between the U.S. and whatever other nation you might care to name (it's a long list) that apparently takes precedence over the fate of whales.
As a result, the Makah look like cruising through this meeting untouched ... on apathy or fear, take your pick. When the relevant subcommittees (aboriginal subsistence whaling and infractions) met last week, not one question about the Makah kill was raised. Why? Apparently, as usual, infractions of IWC rules do not apply to the USA. For shame!
Keiko saves Iceland's whales
The dream of returning the orca whale Keiko, star of the Free Willy movies, to his home waters has finally been realized. Nearly five years have passed since Keiko first captured the world's attention while still in Mexico City, after the release of the feature film.
Keiko was warmly received by the Icelandic Westmann Islands community, with more than 4,000 children and adults alike waving signs and banners, and sporting T-shirts:
"Velkommen Keiko". The schools gave the entire student community the day off for the rollicking celebration.
His arrival has already prompted a dramatic increase in scientific research into orcas and the educational value of whale conservation. A new understanding is developing in Iceland of the enduring value of watching and protecting whales.
Phony IWC media event ousts real reporter
Ever felt you'd been had? If not, we suggest you talk to Mattias Peltier and find out what it's like.
Mattias is a BBC Caribbean correspondent based in Dominica. The BBC asked him to cover this meeting, so (perhaps naively) he went to the "International Whaling Commission Media Symposium" that appeared to be an official part of the IWC conference. Held at the Spice Island Resort, this turned out to be a sleazy affair sponsored by "The Caribbean Broadcasting Union" and a gang of Japan-fronting (Un)wise users including UWU chief Eugene Lapointe as the keynote speaker, Japan's notorious flack Alan Macnow, apologist Dan Goodman, and World Council of Whalers chief mouthpiece Tom Happynook.
Call them a bunch of lackeys if you like, we call the event a con. Titles like "Sustainable use of marine resources in the Caribbean", "Whaling traditions in the Caribbean", and "Whale propaganda wars" probably gave the game away. Mattias caught on and no doubt asked some pointed questions. The ever vigilant Macnow pounced, proclaiming Mattias to be an agent provocateur planted by whale loving greenies and demanding that he leave.
Jamaican journalist John Maxwell then said that if Matthias was thrown out, he would split too. They did.
On their way out, Matthias and Maxwell were followed closely by Antigua Commissioner Daven Joseph. Outside the conference room, Joseph spotted Henry Shillingford of the Dominica Conservation Association, and launched into a virulent attack on him for representing "white imperialists who want to deprive small vulnerable societies of their traditional cultural pursuits".
During the ensuing melee Macnow pushed Joseph aside forcibly, apparently attempting to restore order. Undeterred, Daven Joseph raged on, telling Shillingford he should be ashamed to be a Rastafarian who puts white imperialist interests above those of his fellow Caribbean peoples. This drew the rest of the Caribbean press outside. They went to work, interviewing Joseph and his cohorts with real time stories that hit the nightly news.
Backfire? Better believe it.
An "undiplomatic" question
Japan's antagonism toward NGOs boiled over repeatedly Monday. Perhaps the most astonishing statement was that Japan would not agree to abide by the rules of procedure regarding admission of observers that the United States was proposing.
After the resolution was adopted overwhelmingly (24 to 9), the Netherlands asked for an explanation of Japan's defiant statement. The IWC chairman quickly warned that pursuing the question was unwise. "Diplomacy" prevailed, and the query, like a harpooned whale, died.
Before the vote on dumping Greenpeace, Secretary Gambell carefully explained, twice, that a "Yes" vote meant supporting Japan and a "No" vote meant opposing Japan (and supporting Greenpeace.)
First up, St. Lucia clearly answered "No". Incredulous, because everyone knows how St. Lucia is supposed to vote, the secretary felt obliged to ask St. Lucia if they really meant "No", explaining yet again what it meant. The roll call started over, St. Lucia voted "Yes."
Out of the dark
By late afternoon on day one, and to our great surprise, Japan hatched another plot ... let's open everything to the media! OK we say. Let's put it all out in the open for the world to see ... and let the world judge.
No sweat, Mon!
The formal dress code imposed on IWC delegations and NGOs by Antigua and other Caribbean nations no doubt reflects their sense of allegiance to Queen and Mother Country. Coat-and-tie formality in the tropics sends the unmistakeable message that Britannia still rules.
Day two: Horse meat?
The eternal con of the whaling game has taken on a new twist in Japan lately. We heard about it yesterday (5/25) in a press conference held by that renegade (almost) banned NGO, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, and the Swiss Coalition for the Protection of Whales.
WDCS agents in Japan have been busy buying meat products sold in stores under various labels, the most common being "kujira" (whale). DNA tests were conducted to identify the species. Samples were also sent to reputable Japanese laboratories for toxicology analyses.
The work turned out to be a shocking follow up to earlier DNA studies (sponsored by Earthtrust and IFAW) that exposed the sale of meat from endangered whale species. We now know that not only are large quantities of "whale" meat still being sold fraudulently in Japan, but that it is dangerous to the health of those who eat it.
Think about the survey numbers for a moment. More than 2,000 tons of meat from more than 20,000 dolphins, porpoises and small whales are consumed by Japanese people each year. A full 25 percent of the small cetacean meat identified in the survey was mislabeled ... i.e. what purported to be whale meat was often really dolphin. That wasn't too surprising, because we already knew it was going on, but here's the kicker: More than 95 percent of the samples contained levels of contaminants (DDT, dieldrin, mercury) that exceeded U.N. safety standards for human consumption. One sample from a striped dolphin sold as "pilot whale" had a mercury level more than 200 times that considered safe for humans.
The press release at the conference cited "clear evidence that unscrupulous processors and retailers are buying cheap meat from tens of thousands of dolphins and porpoises killed by Japan each year and are selling them to the unsuspecting public advertised as whale meat, which the government promotes to consumers as healthy food."
To a country sensitive to environmental contamination issues (such as Minamata's mercury disaster) the WDCS/SCPW findings must come as a bombshell. No longer can Japanese consumers count on what they're told they're buying, but even worse, they now know they're probably buying poison.
A final note: Can you believe horse meat being sold as whale in Tokyo for $600 a kilo? Yep.
We were too busy "working the problem" Tuesday to spend much time in the room, but we did pick up a couple of snippets from the Future of the IWC session. First we heard the "Irish" proposal had so many proven holes it was bound to sink at any moment; then we heard that there was "still life in the old cow." Apparently Japan had offered to talk seriously. Is this a change? We've nothing to say against female bovines, we do have a suggestion. If you want to know whether its still breathing, try nudging it. If it falls over, it's probably dead.
The unholy Clinton/Gore U.S. administration revealed its God of Free Trade stripes early on when it refused to impose economic sanctions against Japan and Norway for defying the IWC's ban on commercial whaling. The sacrificial altar has become bloodier by the year as fear recedes and the pirates' confidence grows. This year, Japan and Norway will reap record post moratorium harvests of death in the Antarctic "Sanctuary", the North Pacific and North Atlantic ... certain of not even a slap on the wrist. America the brave.
Recently, the U.S. administration has come up with a new idea to kick start a dirty (profitable) old business ... a novel interpretation of the science of catching tuna by terrorizing dolphins. According to an April 29 ruling by President Clinton's Secretary of Commerce, the deadly nets which killed 7 million dolphins over four decades in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP) tuna fishery do NOT adversely impact dolphins, at least not "significantly". This must have been startling news to scientists of the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service who had told Congress that ETP dolphin populations weren't recovering despite the low "kill reports" (body counts) of Mexico, Venezuela, and other tuna fishing nations.
Even more wierdly, several enviros (Greenpeace U.S.A., Center for Marine Conservation, World Wide Fund for Nature U.S.A.) announced their support. Their reasoning was vague to say the least. Perhaps the testimony before Congress of CMC's Nina Young helped understanding when she revealed that CMC received grants totaling $2 million in 1997 from the Clinton administration. Could this groveling have been a wooing of the esteem of the U.S. Commander in Chief?
The immediate effect of the bizarre decision is to gut standards for American "dolphin safe" tuna. Tuna from dolphin-killing nations can now be labeled "dolphin safe" even if dolphins were chased, harassed, injured or even killed ... as long as an on-board observer is willing to claim no dolphins died. Sounds to us like there'll be no need to advertise for observers, they'll be lining up.
Free trade, not dolphin safety, is the lurking premise behind this political sell-out. Fortunately for dolphins, the major U.S. tuna processors (StarKist, Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea) have declared continuing support for true "dolphin safe" standards regardless. Since these companies comprise 90 percent of the U.S. canned tuna market, "dolphin deadly" tuna is unlikely to find shelf space in U.S. grocery stores soon. Equally fortunately, some U.S. enviros are still willing to stand up and fight for dolphins. Expect them to file a lawsuit that will return sanity to "dolphin safe" standards. ETP dolphins may be down, but thanks to their true defenders, they're not out.
You may be wondering, if this was strike two, what was strike one? That happened the day the Dolphin Death Act ball whizzed by Greenpeace USA, closely followed by a hound baying "woof woof".
Humor at last
The discussion on the health effects of consuming small cetaceans went along predictably enough until Japan complained that only negative effects were being listed. What about the positive side to eating whale meat? asked Japan, pointing out that unsaturated fats contained in whales improve blood circulation and make the brain work better - though you can't actually go beyond your given brain size. Chairman Michael Canny quickly seized the moment, commenting "From my observations, it also seems to lubricate the tongue." The house broke up. Thank you, Michael!
Alan Macnow speaks
Those of you who knew Alan Macnow in his previous incarnation will remember the way he used to skulk around the edges of meetings, huddling in corners, speaking in whispers. You'll also have noticed his new bravado, and the way he casually wields his influence and reveals his agenda ... in Monaco, you may recall, he was holding court. An (un)wise (ab)user to the core, and the proud owner of fabulous Caribbean property, Alan easily reconciles planet side reality with the words he speaks ever more publicly these days. Here are a few samples that are direct quotes from his recent ramblings:
"If the IWC allows commercial whaling to resume, whale populations can never again be depleted."
"Caribbean states at the IWC always vote in support of Scientific Committee recommendations and the provisions of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. So does Japan."
"In 1994, the anti-whaling groups recruited Austria into the IWC to vote for a whale sanctuary in the waters off Antarctica and this year Italy was brought into the IWC to help the anti-whaling cause."
"IWC members are often exposed to both coercion and intimidation from the anti-whaling advocates to force them to vote for anti-whaling measures."
"Whale watching is a growing activity and should be encouraged, but there is really no reason why it cannot co-exist with whaling." Huh?
Canada out to wreck whale meat ban
Documents obtained by the Humane Society of Canada under the Federal Access to Information Act clearly show that Canada is working to wreck the international ban on the trade in whale meat by bringing CITES and IWC into direct conflict with each other. Inquiring minds want to know:
The Canadian Observer to this meeting has first-hand knowledge of these matters because he is specifically mentioned in the documents and he actually voted on behalf of Canada at the last CITES meeting in favor of a resolution that would bring the IWC and CITES into conflict. Just one more small point. A study released last month by the Government of Canada showed that 95 percent of Canadians support the protection of wildlife.
In their attempt to gaze deeply at commercial whaling crystal balls, the commissioners' fortune tellers are missing the point. It is not the future of the IWC that's the real concern. Sure, stale coffee, boring interventions and attempts at secret ballots do take a toll on the legitimate functioning of the International Whaling Commission. However, boredom or denunciations of democracy aren't the primary threats that need the attention of member countries.
Gaze deeper dear commissioners. The all-important agenda before us isn't the future of the IWC but the future of whales. After centuries of exploitation, under-reporting, blatant infractions and non-existent enforcement, the commission now appears committed to sidestepping into the resumption of commercial whaling. Regardless of whether the issue is high-seas whaling or coastal commercial whaling on migratory species, the IWC must refocus its attention on the future of whales threatened for the regrettable benefit of just two whaling nations. Our concern must be the future of whales, not the short term financial interests of Norwegian and Japanese whalers.
Day 3: To kill a baby
If we were certain of anything coming into this meeting, it was that the horror story of whaling in Bequia would come to a sudden end, or at least that the IWC would deal it a fatal blow. The spectacle of a baby humpback being stabbed and ripped apart in front of tourists, we thought, would be too much to take. Not so, apparently. The commissioner for St. Vincent and the Grenadines spent almost half an hour today (5/27) justifying the "tradition" and offering improved methods.
It seems the Makah may have been giving lessons on the side because, lo and behold, there is now a proposal to use guns on the whales, automatic rifles we think we heard ... to make them die more quickly and no doubt feel better about it. Because of the greater efficiency, more whales could be killed. At one point applause broke out in the room ... a first so far as we know. Not even the U.S. slide show got that. The upshot was a startling proposal for a schedule ammendment by (surprise!) Ireland. Under it, humpbacks can go on being killed in the Caribbean, as long as they aren't babies. St Vincent had a quick rejoinder to the last one that got speared ... really it was the mother that got it first, and the baby that came over to the harpoon.
Be all that as it may, we're waiting to find out whether there's enough intestinal fortitude left in this room to tell the baby killers it's time to bury the harpoons, or at least restrict their use to decorating walls.
Possibly we should thank Japan for the idea that the IWC should manage fisheries. We won't for two reasons, one being that Japan seems to regard whales as fish, an error that elementary school students are well aware of; the other being that Japan is seriously off the rails in its thinking about the relationship between numbers of whales and abundance of fish species available for human consumption. To claim, as Japan does, that if there were fewer whales (i.e. if more were killed) there'd be more fish for us, is plain nonsense. As the New Zealand commissioner pointed out, not all whales eat fish, many don't consume commercial fish species, the prey of sperm whales, which comprise the greatest biomass of cetaceans, is squid, and moreover, fish eat fish. The real culprit is overfishing, i.e. us.
Well, this was it... the last IWC meeting of a long millennium. Good cause, we say, for serious rethinking of our purpose in being here. For some, this was the dullest, most trivial, least useful meeting ever. For us, it was marking time. Better to do that, we think, than to slide backwards. Next year, with a brand new calendar, there's a chance for a new start. We have a great task ahead of us, no less than bringing sense and a resolution to an issue that's been driving much wider agendas. Whales became world symbols in 1972 at the first UN environment conference. "Save the whales - save the Earth". The whales are a long way from being safe, and not just because of the harpoon. Our planet is in dire peril. Next year, the first meeting of the next round will be in Adelaide, Australia, a fine setting for a real celebration of whales, a pertinent examination of our priorities, and a new beginning.
In the nick of time
A graphic presentation by U.S. Commisioner James Baker on the catastrophic changes under way in the world's oceans began Wednesday's session. Complete with video clips, orca calls and a rousing organ finale, it was a scary review of those environmental threats, and a litany of hazards to people who consume cetaceans. The conclusion, that the IWC's scientific research programs must focus urgent attention on environmental threats was inescapable.
Unsurprisingly, Japan, with its Caribbean cohorts and Norway, struggled to keep the IWC from allocating funds for environmental research. Fortunately, they weren't able to prevent seed money being provided for the work. Perhaps reacting at failing to get its way once again, Japan petulantly threatened to withdraw its two ships from global climate change research.
The day before, the Caribbean Six were in full cry against a U.S. offer to fund a multinational non-lethal study of humpbacks in the Caribbean. Claiming it a threat to the sovereignty, territorial waters and EEZs of regional states, the Six bravely resisted "colonialist" arguments that the program would work through a regional organization; would offer full involvement to Caribbean scientists and governments; and would respect local authority over access. In response, Caribbean delegates signaled their desire to turn over marine research in the region to Japan, which has certainly shown it knows what to do with its research subjects... during a 1998 cruise in Caribbean waters, Japanese scientists killed and dissected a pilot whale.
The scientific debate continues, but at least a start on work has been made. Let's hope it's in time.
More threats to Grays
The combined might of ESSA, the Mexican government-owned corporation, and the Japanese giant Mitsubishi Corporation continue to press the Mexican government for permits to build a massive salt plant on the untouched edge of San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja's El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve. The proposal would make 116 square miles of desert ecosystem into an industrial complex of ponds, roads, piers, pumps, and giant conveyer belts ... all to convert the pristine waters of San Ignacio Lagoon, which shelter the birth of gray whales, into rock salt for a glutted international market. The scheme poses a huge threat to gray whales.
Unfortunately, despite hard evidence and genuine fears, it is still very much on the table.
Norwegian delegate Steiner Bastesen slipped up in a big way a few years ago, and is now paying for it. Last week, his fishing company, Haifa/AS was in court facing charges of cheating on quota allocations. Many of the charges were laid against the vessel "Havliner" for incidents in 1995 that related to fishing inside a protected area, faulty documentation, and serious under reporting. On one occasion, the vessel's captain "forgot" to report 17 tons of cod and 2.2 tons of haddock. Another time it was 7.4 tons. A couple of years earlier, the vessel's cod quota was overfished by 12.4 tons. It seems the pattern of cheating was consistent enough for a Norwegian court to find Haifa/AS guilty and fine it 130,000 NOK (around $20,000 US). Fortunately or otherwise, the company's owner was far away at the time of the trial, possibly thinking it better to be in the heat here than back there.
If you care
Bernhard Bechter is such an unassuming guy he couldn't offend anyone if he tried. Today Secretary Gambell kindly asked the police to allow Bernhard to leave his red kayak sitting on the lawn outside the meeting. No problem.
Later, we watched Bernhard stop while walking across the lawn, noticing that one of Japan's delegates was taking a photo of a colleague, hold out his hand offering to take a photo of them both, do that, hand the camera back smiling, and walk on. It was a nice moment that perfectly illustrated where Bernhard is coming from. He doesn't hate, doesn't have enemies, isn't really against anyone, he's just for the whales. Looking at him, you'd scarcely credit that Bernhard was lying in hospital a few months ago with a broken back. That was just one of the incidents that happened to him on his way here... to show that someone cares about whales.
Bernhard left his home in Austria's mountains last August, on a bike, towing a kayak, headed for Grenada. His journey took him through Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark & the Faroe Islands. On to Iceland, he visited Keiko the famous orca. Greenland was next... seriously winter by now. Bernhard hung out with his kayak and whale hunters for 3 weeks, then he jumped on a plane and headed off to northern Canada. That's where his kayak slid down a snow bank and he broke his back. After the hospital, Bernhard headed south for Miami, hitching rides with his kayak and stirring up media attention... it's hard not to notice someone sitting on a kayak holding his thumb out. Eventually, Bernhard landed in Venezuela. Almost immediately someone stuck a gun in his face and took most of what he had... but not his kayak. Despite dire warnings about dangers in the jungle, Bernhard headed up river. He landed on sandy shoals to camp at night, met gentle people who emerged silently from the forest, mostly naked, never experiencing a moment's fear, and paddled along accompanied by river dolphins. Trinidad next, hung up by customs, finally hopping on a sailboat, Bernhard landed on the lawn here a day late after 9 long months on the way. Sign onto his kayak here and find him later at http://www.globalance.org/
How to kill a whale? It turns out that's a big problem because the darned things just don't die all that easily. The niceties of language aside, the workshop on "killing methods" was told that even if you are standing beside a stranded sperm whale and put a bullet where you think her brain is, you might miss... she wakes up a while later and you have to do it again. That's the kind option. The other one, where you chase them down in boats on tossing seas, miss with the harpoon and do it over, stick in the lance, blast in the bullets, can take a lot longer... maybe an hour. If you're a Japanese whaler, 70 percent of the whales you hit don't die "immediately", if you're Norwegian, that number's "only" 40 percent. Must mean whales writhing on the line feel a lot better if they're in the North Atlantic.
The Norwegian businessmen who paid 60 times the usual price for blubber in 1995, speculating that trade with Japan was about to open, must be regretting it now that the government of Norway insists all blubber from before 1997 is rendered into oil. This doesn't mean Norway has given up on shipping whale products to Japan... not at all. '97 was when Norway's DNA register started. Expect Norway to work harder than ever on trade, with whale meat fetching $3.30 US in Norway and $27 US per kilo dockside in Japan.
Still singing after all these years
Dreamt of Moby Dick
Editor's note: Dr. Paul Spong is founder and director of Orcalab on Hanson Island in Vancouver, B.C., and a pioneer in whale research and whale protection. His research on dolphins and orcas began in 1967, and led him to become a founding member of the "Save-the-Whales" movement and to lead Greenpeace campaigns against commercial whaling. This work culminated in the worldwide moratorium that is still in effect under the International Whaling Commission. Ben White, is the international coordinator for the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). Ben handles all whale, dolphin and forest issues for AWI and is their representative to the IWC, CITES and IATTC. He is noted for his direct action efforts such as cutting dolphins caught for captivity free from nets.
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