Killing Whales Is Not the Way to Save Them

Today — on Earth Day, of all days — the International Whaling Commission (IWC) released details of a deal that would legitimize commercial whaling. The deal has been backed by U.S. officials working behind closed doors with eleven other countries to break a perceived impasse at the IWC.  The Obama Administration must now decide whether it will formally endorse the deal before the IWC meets in June in Agadir, Morocco.

This deal would reverse nearly three decades of progress to “save the whales.”  It would suspend the whaling moratorium – one of the landmark achievements of the environmental movement – for 10 years, legitimize commercial whaling, and authorize whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – a sanctuary established by the IWC itself to protect whales.  The deal acknowledges that no compromise could be reached to prevent whaling nations from trading in whale meat or products.  Nor does the deal contain a termination clause in the event of bad faith by the whaling nations – such as whaling under the guise of “scientific permits,” reservations, or objections, all of which are current loopholes that whaling nations exploit. 

United States whaling officials and other proponents of the deal sincerely believe that it will result in a “significant reduction” of whales killed.  But as proposed, this deal secures the future of whaling instead of seeking to end it completely.  By legitimizing commercial whaling, the deal would not only give a lifeline to an otherwise dying industry but would also reward Japan, Norway, and Iceland -- which have continued to kill tens of thousands of whales despite the moratorium – for their years of defiance of international law.

The moratorium has done more to save whales than the revival of commercial whaling ever could. Prior to the moratorium, an average of over 38,000 whales were killed annually (between 1945 and 1986), compared with an average of only 1,240 whales killed per year after the moratorium (between 1987 and 2009).    

As candidate for President, Mr. Obama pledged to strengthen the moratorium, stating that “allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable.”  President Obama must now live up to his campaign promises.  The Obama Administration must formally and publicly oppose this deal -- for the sake of the whales.