A five-day International Whaling Commission conference in Morocco failed to produce an agreement that would authorize hunting whales in national and international waters. Anti-whaling countries were defiant in their opposition to initiatives aimed at legitimizing whale hunting in the name of “conservation.” Whaling has been banned internationally for 24 years, but this did not stop countries like Japan, Norway, and Iceland from defying the ban – by claiming various loopholes to and exemptions from the 1986 ban.
Pro-whaling states decided to give up on pushing for a repeal of the ban in the Morocco meeting in light of resistance from the European Union and Latin American countries, among many others. The repeal was originally promoted by the United States, with Obama breaking a campaign promise that he would support the whaling ban if elected. The failure to break the ban was the subject of stern lectures by U.S. newspapers, whose reporters claimed that the attempted repeal of whaling prohibition was in reality an effort to protect whales. The New York Times, for example, reported that the failure to repeal the whaling ban will “leave management of whale populations in the hands of hunters. A compromise plan…would have allowed the three countries (Norway, Iceland, and Japan) to resume commercial whaling but at significantly lower levels and under tight monitoring.” The Washington Post similarly reported that the failed repeal will effectively “leave management of the population of the world’s largest animals essentially in the hands of whale hunters.”
Reporting in the U.S. press is starkly contrasted to that in Britain, where the Independent of London summarized that the failure to repeal the ban is a “victory for anti-whaling campaigners…the controversial attempt to scrap the 24 year old international moratorium in commercial whaling collapsed…to the frustration of Japan, Norway, and Iceland, the three countries which continue to hunt whales in defiance of world opinion.”
Reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post have relied on false portrayals of the Morocco meeting and the whaling ban on multiple levels. Both papers failed to report on the scientific findings, discovered by researchers at Stanford and Harvard University, and reported in the journal Science, that global humpback and great whale populations “are too low to resume commercial hunting.” Both papers also inaccurately suggest that Japan, Norway, and Iceland are reliant upon a new international agreement in order to set a lower quota for whale hunting, or end hunting altogether. The claim that the failure to repeal the ban leaves control over whaling “in the hands of whale hunters” is inaccurate. The 1986 whaling ban passed by the International Whaling Commission relies upon voluntary compliance of supporting states for its implementation. In reality, then, there is nothing to currently stop whaling countries from reducing their hunting at any time. The International Whaling Commission retains no authority to either reward or punish countries that enforce or violate the ban.
Contrary to the claims of pro-whaling countries, the attempt to repeal the ban has nothing to do with each state’s ability to reduce whaling quotas or end whaling altogether. Repealing the ban is meant simply to provide pro-whaling countries with the international legitimacy they desire in light of the decline of whale populations. As is well understood throughout the world, the 1986 ban merely cemented the earlier 1966 global whaling moratorium to end the hunting in light of dwindling whale populations and the entrance of numerous species onto the endangered species list. Significantly, whaling catches had fell to well below ten thousand a year by 1985 from a high of 70,000 a year in the 1960s.
This downward trend in killings following the 1966 and 1986 bans, however, was marginalized by the New York Times when it recently reported that “more than 33,000 whales have been killed since the ban took effect in 1986, undermining the [International Whaling] commission in the eyes of critics.”
A repeal on the whaling ban will likely lead to a tremendous increase in whaling, not a reduction or “controlled” hunting. Businesses within countries currently restricted by the ban would be free to engage in whaling, causing an expansion in the number of hunters and markets reliant upon whaling. This reality should be remembered when one reflects upon the motivations of officials in Japan, Iceland, Norway, and the United States. Norway’s “quotas” for whale hunters have steady increased from near zero in 1990 to nearly one thousand by 2010. Whale hunting countries, then, have no intention of using a repeal to push for “conservation” or “moderation” in whaling. They want to use it to provide cover for their increased reliance upon the whaling industry.
There is much to celebrate in the defeat of the whaling repeal. Whaling countries have failed in their public relations attempts to provide cover for their unsustainable hunting. At a time when scientists are discussing dwindling whale populations, pro-whaling countries should not be allowed to deceive and manipulate the global public. The justifications offered for the repeal were rightly rejected throughout most of the world, and this represents a major victory – not a defeat – for conservation.