EIA is currently in Panama for the 64th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission.
Our first week was taken up by working group meetings and preparation for the plenary meeting that starts today (July 2) at 4pm UK time. Many issues on the plenary agenda are discussed in these working groups including the Conservation Commission, the IWC’s budget, Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quotas and welfare issues.
Most productive was the Conservation Committee, with its packed agenda demonstrating the evolution of the IWC from a ‘whalers’ club’ to an effective, modern conservation body. So much of the genesis of its work was driven by EIA in the 1990s when it persuaded the IWC that it must address threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) in addition to the harpoon.
Today cetaceans are being affected by a wide range of man-made problems, including climate change, pollution, vessel strikes, entanglement and marine debris, and these are becoming mainstream IWC concerns. EIA sponsored a scientific review of marine debris which, along with other papers, resulted in a recommendation from the Scientific Committee for an IWC workshop on the issue. We will be circulating a new briefing on the issue, Dying at Our Convenience, to delegates and encouraging them to ensure the workshop takes place before the next Scientific Committee meeting.
While the working groups were productive, it remains to be seen just how much is achieved in the plenary as the politics kick in. The Latin American countries will be calling for a vote on their proposed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary and there is concern that Japan and its allies may again block the voting procedures as they did last year.
There is also nervousness and controversy surrounding the renewal of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quotas. The US request for a bowhead whale quota for the Alaskan Eskimos in the past has been held hostage by Japan and its allies. Meanwhile, Denmark has requested increased quotas for Greenland amidst evidence of widespread commercial sale of products from these hunts, including in restaurants frequented by tourists. This is certainly not the intent of these special quotas for communities, in which hunting and consuming whales are part of their tradition and culture.
In addition to the marine debris briefing, EIA has co-authored several papers including a briefing on the health implications of consuming cetacean products and Time to Refocus 2012 – A constructive vision for the evolution and future of the International Whaling Commission as a cetacean protection body.
We also have a stand in the exhibition area showing striking images of the destructive human impact on whales, dolphins and porpoises. Hopefully, the exhibition will help persuade decision-makers as well as people in Panama to do what they can to reduce our impacts on these wonderful animals and their ocean environment.