Stepping Backward Is Not A "Way Forward" For Protecting Whales At The IWC

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) today released a report by the Chair of a small subcommittee charged with negotiating a compromise on a “way forward” for the IWC.  There is much discussion in the report about conservation, science, monitoring, governance, and yet-undetermined whale catch limits, and NRDC expects to respond in detail when a careful review has been done.  While anyone familiar with the IWC can sympathize with the subcommittee’s goal, the report is, on first reading, a disappointment.  The recommended way forward – if adopted by IWC member nations – would be a step backward toward legitimizing commercial whaling.

NRDC has long opposed commercial whaling.  Whales are among the most magnificent and inspirational animals ever to inhabit the planet, and they play an invaluable role in maintaining the healthy ocean ecosystems essential to our survival.  Sadly, as a result of commercial whaling in the 19th and early 20th centuries, many species of whales were pushed to the brink of extinction, prevented only by the efforts of generations of people around the world determined to “Save the Whales” before it was too late.  One of the centennial moments of that movement was the adoption of an international moratorium on commercial whaling, which took effect a generation ago.

Although whaling nations such as Japan, Iceland and Norway have continued to hunt whales for profit since the moratorium – killing over 32,000 whales either under the guise of “scientific research” or reservations and objections to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling – the whaling ban has been a pivotal step forward in the struggle both to save those species decimated by hunting and to recover whale populations throughout the world.

NRDC opposes any plan to weaken the moratorium.  And we will urge the Obama Administration, at next week’s IWC Intersessional meetings in St. Petersburg, Florida, to continue this nation’s proud history of whale conservation by rejecting any proposal for the future of the IWC  that would invite that result.

The Obama Administration’s commitment to our oceans and to the species that inhabit it is already well established.  One of President Obama’s first appointments was that of Dr. Jane Lubchenco to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the agency responsible for restoring our oceans.  She promptly committed to developing a national ocean policy, long advocated by NRDC, to ensure the protection, maintenance, and restoration of our ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes ecosystems.  More recently, NOAA has undertaken a review of the U.S. Navy’s safeguards in training with high intensity military sonar and announced a process for improving those safeguards. (Those powerful sonar systems are known to injure and kill deep-diving whales and to cause widespread disruption in numerous whale, dolphin, and porpoise species – as shown here.)

As the IWC decides, in the coming months, whether it exists to protect whales or to regulate their slaughter, we strongly urge the Administration to stand firm in defending the moratorium.