1,001 tales of whales

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1998:

MUSCAT, Oman––The 50th annual
meeting of the International Whaling
Commission opened on May 16 in Muscat,
Oman, but lasted just one Arabian night
before chairperson Michael Canny of Ireland
suspended proceedings from Sunday, May 17,
until at least Tuesday, May 19.
In the interim Canny hoped to
resolve an impasse resulting when Japan and
seven Caribbean nations led by Antigua
demanded that all votes be via secret ballot.
The U.S. and most European nations oppose
secret votes, which would allow nations to
take private positions contravening their public
stance. Nongovernmental organizations
opposed to whaling accused Japan of purchasing
votes by linking foreign aid to whaling.

The meeting, attended by 33
nations, could not proceed without agreement
on the rules.
Heading the IWC agenda was an
October 1997 Irish proposal to permanently
ban high seas whaling, phase out so-called
“scientific whaling” (the current pretext for
Japanese whaling), and keep the current prohibition
of international traffic in whale parts,
but allow nations with a whaling tradition to
kill whales in coastal waters for local use.
Japan argued that the Irish proposal
goes beyond the IWC mandate, set by treaty
in 1946. Norway, which unilaterally resumed
commercial whaling in 1993, opposed the
export prohibition in particular, having long
coveted the lucrative Japanese whale meat
market. Iceland is reportedly also interested in
purchasing whale byproducts from Norway.
Japan, given IWC permission in
1997 to do a computer simulation of the
impact of hunting on north Pacific Bryde’s
whales, was expected to go forth with a “scientific
hunt” of Bryde’s whales using giant
factory ships supplied by catcher vessels,
unless firmly restrained by global pressure.
Using factory ships could permit swift butchery
of any whale, and disposal of the evidence,
as occurred before the whaling moratorium,
despite IWC bans on killing the rarest
whales. The prospect that it could occur again
was raised when whaling foes, for the fourth
IWC meeting in a row, produced genetic evidence
that meat from whales who haven’t been
legally hunted in 30 years is still available in
Japanese supermarkets. The contraband
included the remains of a humpback subspecies
found only in Mexican waters, plus
parts of fin, blue, and Bryde’s whales.
The U.S., Britain, New Zealand,
and Australia reportedly hoped to keep the
whaling moratorium as it stands.
Body count
Humans have killed more than
18,000 whales since 1986 despite the moratorium,
World Wildlife Fund scientist Elizabeth
Kemf told media on May 12. Japan has killed
more than 3,600 minke whales, Norway has
killed 2,300, and Greenland, an autonomous
province of Denmark, has killed 200, Kemf
estimated. Most the the rest died in accidents.
WWF was to give the IWC a
161,000-name petition demanding an end to
“scientific whaling” inside the Southern Ocean
Whale Sanctuary, created by the IWC in 1994
through a tradeoff that also brought approval
of the Revised Management Plan, a formula
for resuming commercial whaling when scientific
and technical questions are resolved.
Claiming to have science on their
side, whalers quoted Anne Collet, a marine
biologist with the Marine Mammal Research
Center in La Rochelle, France, who told the
world’s first Marine Mammal Science
Conference in January that, “Whaling today is
really not endangering any whale populations,
because the catch is relatively small. The real
problem,” Collet said, “is pollution, particularly
heavy metal.”
As the major whaling nations are
also big on fishing, their delegates were less
quick to cite another January speaker, Martin
Hall of the InterAmerican Tropical Tuna
Commission, who warned, “If there are no
more cod, herring, or krill, there will be no
more dolphins or whales because they will
have nothing to eat.”
The 35-vessel Norwegian whaling
fleet sailed on April 26, with a self-set quota
of 671 minke whales, up from 580 in 1997.
Native whaling
Another hot topic on the IWC agenda
was the application of the Makah tribe, of
Washington state, for permission to kill grey
whales under a “native subsistence” allocation
shared with Siberian indigenous peoples.
Michael Kundu, Pacific Northwest
coordinator for the Sea Shepherd Conservation
Society, revealed on May 14 that Makah representative
Keith Johnson, with “a representative
from another tribe, is meeting with
Japanese trade officials to discuss terms of
trade in ‘mammals,’ according to the minutes
of the Makah Tribal Council, which do not
further identify the commodity.” Johnson
apparently visited Japan en route to Oman.
The Makah have repeatedly denied
that their motive for reviving tribal whaling
after a 72-year hiatus might be the prospect of
selling whale meat to Japan, already reputedly
the biggest buyer of Makah-cut timber.
But as Kundu also noted, “Any traditional
aspect was lost the moment the tribe
smelled the prospect of selling whale meat in
Asia. The tribal whaling commission claims
they’re doing it to revitalize traditions, yet
now they’re looking to recruit an Alaskan
Eskimo whaling captain, their boats are
equipped with outboard engines, and their
hunters wear camoflage military gear while
conducting .50 caliber gunnery drills.”
The pretext of cultural revival has
served the Makah well politically. As Kundu
pointed out, “James Baker III, head of the
U.S. delegation to the IWC, earlier secured
$200,000 in federal funds for Makah lobbying
efforts in support of a ‘ceremonial’ hunt.”
But the Makah may be running out
of political friends as their October 1 target
date for killing their first gray whale approaches.
On May 8, the U.S. Senate passed without
opposition SB 266, a resolution by Olympia
Snowe (R-Maine), which asks the U.S. delegation
to the IWC to oppose commercial whaling,
act to stop unauthorized whaling by Japan
and Norway, oppose “scientific whaling,”
work to end illegal traffic in whale meat, and
“support permanent protection of whales
through the creation of whale sanctuaries.”
Also on May 8, the Sea Shepherds
publicized a recent letter from Congressional
Representative Norm Dicks (D-Washington) to
Makah tribal chair Bender Johnson. Dicks,
whose district includes the Makah reservation,
warned Johnson that whaling “may not be a
prudent course,” urging the Makah to “consider
pursuing other alternatives that will benefit
the tribe’s economic and social interests.”
Expecting the Makah to proceed no
matter what the IWC says, the Sea Shepherds
“have commitments from 22 private vessels to
intervene between the Makah hunters and the
whales, should the hunt commence,” Sea
Shepherd founder Paul Watson said. “If they
try for a whale, we’ll have everything out
there from zodiacs to large private yachts,
under the banner of the Whale Guardians
Network, our Washington watchdog group.”
Ancient bowheads
The Baffin Island Inuit, of northern
Canada, plan to kill a bowhead whale this
July, if a permit is granted as expected by the
Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
They don’t need IWC permission, as Canada
is not an IWC member.
The Baffin Island tribe last killed a
bowhead, globally protected since 1935, in
August 1996. Wrote Robert Melnbardis of
Reuters, “The bowhead was harpooned and
shot so many times that his lungs filled with
blood and water, causing him to sink. The
whale’s decaying body rose to the surface two
days later, and was towed into port. Much of
the carcass, however, was discarded.”
In April, however, a study of amino
acids found in 48 preserved eyeballs of bowheads
killed between 1978 and 1997 found that
four of the eyeballs came from whales who
were more than 100 years old. This confirmed
the implication of stone and ivory arrowheads
found in the flesh of whales killed in 1981,
1992, and more recently that the whales were
wounded at some point before 1880, by which
time stone arrowheads had passed from use.
North Slope Borough Department of
Wildlife Management biologist Craig George
was to present the findings to the IWC.
The findings imply that the few hundred
remaining bowheads are not only few,
but also an aging population, of limited reproductive
capability, and therefore much less
likely than was previously believed to be able
to withstand the loss of any young whale.
Right whales
New Zealand was expected to push
for an end to “scientific whaling” within the
Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary not only as a
matter of principle, but also to further protect
a remnant pod of southern right whales,
recently found off the Auckland Islands. A
July 1997 count found 146 individuals,
including 18 mother-and-calf pairs. The
Auckland Islands southern right whales were
believed to have all been killed before 1900.
Northern right whales are now nearly
as scarce, at least in Atlantic waters, with a
known population of 300-350.
U.S. President Bill Clinton, under
fire for repeated concessions to Norwegian and
Japanese whalers, on April 23 proposed to the
International Maritime Organization that
“ships entering the northern right whale’s calving
and feeding grounds off Cape Cod and off
the Georgia and Florida coasts will be required
to report by radio to the U.S. Coast Guard,
which will relay back the latest information on
the whales’ locations and advice on avoiding
collisions. We believe this reporting system is
essential if we are to ensure the survival of this
majestic creature,” Clinton said.
Eight northern right whales have
been killed by ships since 1990––half the
known mortality. Only 17 northern right
whales were known to have been born in the
winter of 1996-1997, and just six in 1997-
1998, of whom one was a stillbirth.
Cats and whales
The collison threat to northern right
whales is expected to increase, however, on
the Bay of Fundy after May 28, when an
Australian-built catamaran ferry dubbed T h e
C a t goes into service between Yarmouth,
Nova Scotia, and Bar Harbor, Maine, hauling
up to 900 passengers and 240 cars at speeds
reaching 60 miles an hour.
A similar high-speed ferry-sized
catamaran called S l i c e, built by Lockheed
Martin with Navy backing, has been tested in
Hawaiian waters since November 1996.
“On or about March 18, 1998,”
according to EnviroWatch investigator Carroll
Cox, “the National Marine Fisheries Service
interviewed the captain of Slice after he reported
a collision between S l i c e and a whale or
other large marine mammal.” A dead humpback
was later found who might have been
sliced by Slice, which has a 14-foot draft and
runs at 30 knots. “The only NMFS response,”
Cox posted to the EnviroWatch web site
(>>http://envirowatch.org<<), “was to write
an internal memorandum.”
Cox found via Freedom of
Information Act requests that NMFS had
apparently not “considered future impacts and
compliance with the National Environmental
Policy Act, which requires an analysis of
potential environmental effects of major federal
actions within U.S. waters.”
Unenforced though the applicable
U.S. laws may be, they have no equivalents at
all in Canada.

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