Published on Saturday, July 2, 2011 by the Inter Press Service
U.S. Replaces Japan in Role of Villain on Whales
by Marcela Valente
BUENOS AIRES - The United States has taken over the pro-whaling stance
traditionally championed by Japan, but instead of supporting the capture of
whales for scientific research purposes, it is doing so under the guise of
aboriginal subsistence quotas.
This is one of the conclusions reached by
Latin American conservationist organizations as they prepare for the
upcoming annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), to be
held Jul. 3-5 on the Channel Island of Jersey.
Established in 1946 to
regulate the hunting and trade of whales, the IWC is made up of 89
countries. While some of them are in favor of commercial whaling, others
maintain a conservationist stance, including the Latin American bloc of
Jose Truda Palazzo, former Brazilian commissioner to the IWC and
now the coordinator of the Southern Right Whale Project at the Cetacean
Conservation Center of Brazil, told Tierramerica that the latest threat is
not posed by Japan but rather by the United States.
considerable unease throughout the region because the U.S. delegation, which
is aggressive and unwilling to negotiate, is going to try to retable an
initiative in Jersey that would legitimize whaling," he said.
There is a
long history behind this stance. In the face of radical declines in the
populations of many whale species and the danger of extinction, the IWC
declared an international moratorium on commercial whaling that entered into
force in 1986. Since then, Japan has used a loophole in the International
Convention for the Regulation of Whaling that allows for the capture of
whales for scientific research purposes in order to continue whaling.
Environmental organizations estimate that Japan captures around 400 whales a
year, which is far more than would be necessary for conducting research, and
even hunts in so-called "sanctuaries" or specially protected areas.
United States was long viewed as a world leader in whale conservation, but
defended the allocation of a quota for subsistence whaling by aboriginal
peoples in the northwestern state of Alaska. In 2002, Japan used its
majority of votes in the CBI to block this quota.
Following that defeat,
considered by environmentalists as a Japanese reprisal against U.S.
conservationist leadership, the United States remained neutral. But for the
last three years, its delegates have become even more pro-whaling than
At the last IWC annual meeting, held in 2010 in Agadir, Morocco,
the United States sought the adoption of a programme of reforms that
maintained the moratorium in general but proposed quotas for whaling and
legitimized Japan's captures.
This proposal was rejected, among other
reasons, because of the strong opposition of Latin American countries along
with others like Australia.
In Jersey, the U.S. delegation, with the
support of New Zealand, will attempt to push through its proposal once
"It is truly unfortunate, because (the United States) has a long
tradition of conservationism and defense of non-lethal use, and now the U.S.
delegation is pro-whaling," commented Truda Palazzo.
He believes that the
change in stance is due to the fact that "in the northern state of Alaska
traditional communities have enormous political power and they send their
delegates to the IWC meetings, but they are not authentic Eskimos who go out
in boats made of animal hides and hunt with harpoons," he said.
have technology and government subsidies and they don't hunt out of a need
for survival," he added. In his opinion, this is a domestic political issue
in the United States for which the rest of the members of the IWC are "taken
The Buenos Aires Group, as the Latin American bloc in the IWC
is known, has announced that it will continue to oppose this initiative. The
group is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador,
Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru and Uruguay.
Schteinbarg of the Whale Conservation Institute of Argentina agreed that the
greatest cause for concern is no longer Japan but rather the United States.
"In 2012, aboriginal whaling quotas will be up for negotiation once again,
and it is possible that the United States has made a bilateral deal with
Japan to support it now in order to get its backing for those quotas next
year," Schteinbarg told Tierramerica.
But the United States is not alone
in defending aboriginal subsistence quotas for Alaska. These quotas are also
supported by Denmark, on behalf of Greenland, as well as Russia and even the
Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. "We agree that
subsistence whaling should be allowed, but we don't believe this to be the
case in most of these countries," Schteinbarg added.
In countries that
defend an aboriginal subsistence quota, she said, explosives are used to
capture the whales, and whale meat is sold in supermarkets in Greenland, for
example, which clearly demonstrates that this is in fact a case of
commercial whaling. Given this state of affairs, it is fortunate that the
Buenos Aires Group has continued to work towards a common strategy that
"could make all the difference" in negotiations, said Schteinbarg.
Latin America, whale watching has become a popular tourism activity that has
consistently grown over the last 40 years.
There are now 18 countries in
the region that promote the activity, according to "The State of Whale
Watching in Latin America", a report published in 2008 by the International
Fund for Animal Welfare, Global Ocean and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation
The Latin American delegates at the meeting in Jersey will
propose changes to the IWC regulations to foster greater civil society
participation, and will once again table a proposal for the creation of the
South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, an initiative that has still not gained a
Elsa Cabrera, executive director of the Cetacean Conservation
Center of Chile, told Tierramerica that in order to expand public
participation and gain greater support for these initiatives before the
meeting in Jersey, on online petition campaign has been launched at
This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are
part of the Tierramerica network. Tierramerica is a specialized news service
produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Program,
United Nations Environment Program and the World Bank.