The latest meeting of the International Whaling Commission all but turned into a rout for anti-whaling forces and likely presages the sort of battles that will be fought around the world in coming decades over the best way to preserve endangered species.
It’s only slightly oversimplifying to say that the fight over whaling boils down to two incompatible positions — on the one side are countries and activists who maintain that whaling is simply wrong regardless of whether or not whales are endangered. On the other side are nations that advocate hunting whales as part of long term plans to sustainably maintain whale populations.
For those opposed to whaling under any circumstance, the main problem is that the IWC has been too successful. In 1986 it imposed a worldwide ban on whaling, although the ability of the IWC to enforce that ban is pretty much non-existent. Japan has in fact resumed hunting small numbers of whales on the pretense of doing so for purely scientific purposes and Norway opposed the moratorium in the first place and largely ignored it. Despite this, in large measure the conservation effort worked and many endangered species of whales have come back with a vengeance.
Now Japan, Norway and other nations say that the science is on their side — whale populations have recovered to a point to sustainably allow a resumption in commercial hunting. But many of the nations on the IWC oppose whaling because, as the BBC summed it up, “they regard whaling as inhumane, unnecessary, and deeply unpopular with their electorates.”
The Japanese representative to the IWC blasted this “no whaling at any costs” view, pointing out the hypocrisy of the Australian position given that Australia opposes any resumption of whaling but on the other hand slaughters millions of kangaroos each year. “Perhaps if we renamed minke whales the ‘kangaroos of the sea,’ the Australian public would support” a resumption in whaling.
Ultimately regardless of who is right about the scientific case, the IWC’s steadfast insistence on no whaling ultimately may backfire and result in less protections for whaling. As the even the IWC secretary, Dr. Ray Gabmell, told BBC News, the pro-whaling nations are likely to leave the IWC if it maintains its ideological opposition to the resumption of whaling. Whaling outside the purvey of the IWC would almost certainly be worse for the whales than hunting under the aegis of the IWC.
“I would think it much better that it was brought within international regulations and oversight,” Gambell said. “I think the commission will need to move forward on measures which would allowed controlled whaling, otherwise it will lose credibility. If the commission cannot set its house in order, people will start to ask: ‘Why do we need it at all?'”
This is not dissimilar to the issue currently facing species preservation plans in the United States, such as for wolves, where activists fight to bring a species back but then fight tooth and nail any attempt to control their population through hunting. Unfortunately, if political communities know that once an endangered species recovers that they will have no means to control its numbers, this creates an enormous disincentive to preserve endangered species, as well as leaving the impression that preserving endangered species is not about science but about Green sentimentality.
Around the world the self-interest of communities is being used to spur efforts to save endangered species, but the irrational attempt to ban culling and hunting of species once they have recovered threatens to reverse that progress.
Australia accused of whaling hypocrisy. The BBC, July 2, 2000.
Whaling ban stans – for now. The BBC, July 6, 2000.
Whaling commission struggles to survive. The BBC. July 4, 2000.
Whale sanctuary rejected. The BBC. July 4, 2000.
Controversy swells around whaling commission meeting. ENN. June 29, 2000.