Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010 International Whaling Comission Conference

The International Whaling Commission (IWC), an international commission currently consisting of 88 member nations, was established under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in 1946 to regulate "whaling" (the hunting of whales) in order to ensure that whales were not being over-hunted and to provide for the conservation of whale stocks. The ICRW established specific time periods that whales could be hunted, established quotas, size limits on whales that can be taken, and designated certain areas as whale sanctuaries (currently there are whale sanctuaries in Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean off Antarctica in which whaling is prohibited). The ICRW was signed by member nations in response to overzealous whaling and the vast destruction of whale stocks. Prior to and during the 1940s, whales were harvested for oil, bone, and baleen for lighting, heating oil, corsets, umbrellas, and a variety of other issues.

Due to the fact that whale species were becoming threatened and even endangered, a moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales was signed in 1982 and went into effect in 1986. The moratorium remains in effect to date, as a three-forths majority vote is needed to overturn the moratorium.

A loophole in the moratorium allows member nations to hunt whales for the purpose of scientific research. Japan uses this loophole as a way of bypassing the moratorium and serves whale meat, which is considered a delicacy for the most part, in restaurants across Japan and other parts of Asia. Iceland and Norway, on the other hand, initially used the same loophole, but subsequently decided to flat out disregarded the moratorium and withdrew from the treaty. The only reason that Japan has not withdrawn from the treaty is for fear that it will face retaliation with fish embargos, mainly by the U.S. Japan, however, continues to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean despite the fact that it is a whale sanctuary.

Although native populations throughout parts of the world are allowed to continue whaling for subsistence, this is an extremely minute proportion of the whales being slaughtered.

Since the implementation of the commercial whaling moritorium in 1986, the United States has always opposed commercial whaling due to the fact that several species of whales are endangered. President Reagan championed the global ban on commercial whaling in the early 1980s. The Clinton Administration strongly supported the creation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica. The Bush administration held the line against commercial whaling.During his campaign, President Obama promised that the U.S. would provide leadership in "strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling" and that "allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable." However, in the most recent IWC conference which took place in March 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida, the U.S., for the first time ever, is siding with Japan and advocating that the moratorium be overturned allowing commercial whaling to resume. The IWC conference is currently in recess until the beginning of June 2010, in which it willl resume in Morocco. With the U.S. now siding with Japan, there is now an excellent chance that other nations will change their positions to match that of the U.S., which may establish the three-fourths majority needed to overturn the commercial whaling moratorium. Not only would the moratorium be overturned, but hunting in the whale sanctuaries would be allowed.

Obama's reasoning behind the U.S's change in policy is that if the moratorium were overturned and commercial whaling were to resume, it could be regulated by quotas and whaling would be sustainable in the long-term. However, quotas aren't currently working. Japan is allowed to "take" 900 whales per year for research purposes and aside from the fact that the whales end up on the dinner plate, Japan exceeds that number every year without conquences. Obama's theory that allowing commercial whaling will conserve whaling (as opposed to whales) over a significant period of time is flawed in that all member nations will begin commercial whaling, which would be allowed in the whale sanctuaries, and the enforcement of quotas is almost impossible.

Many species of whales, which have existed long before humans have roamed the earth, such as the blue whale, are critically endangered and we don't have the luxury of allowing commercial whaling to resume in an illogical attempt to conserve whaling on a long term basis. If commercial whaling resumes, many species of whale will become extinct within years.

It's a tragedy that the Obama administration has reneged on its promise to strengthen the moratorium. Australia, on the other hand, has vowed to file suit against Japan in the International Court if Japan continues to violate the moratorium. Australia is currently the only country willing to stand up to Japan.

Hopefully, the three-fourths majority will not be reached to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling, otherwise, several whale species will become even more endangered while other whale species will become extinct.

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