Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Saving the whales

Whale disappearing beneath the surface off the coast of kaikoura, New Zealand. Copyright: WebWeaver ProductionsI think whales are the most incredible creatures. Living in New Zealand, I'm incredibly lucky to have sperm whales practically on my doorstep, as they live just off the coast of Kaikoura, which is in the South Island of NZ. I've been whale-watching a few times, and it's a trip I always make sure my visitors experience. It's wonderful.

We rock quietly on the waves, watching an enormous whale - bigger than our boat by far - as it rests on the surface. It blows spouts of misty air up into the sky as it fills its lungs with enough oxygen to take it to the depths. We wait. A broad-winged albatross swoops casually by. We wait. The sun glitters off the surface of the ocean, as the whale humps its back a little in preparation for the dive, and then slowly, gracefully arches its back, lifts its tail into the air, and heads down into the deep once more.


whale spouting blood after being harpoonedIt's an awe-inspiring sight, and one which makes me feel humbled and thrilled all at the same time. I cannot imagine how someone could feel able to kill one of these amazing creatures, to aim the harpoon, pull the trigger and watch the bloody explosion as it hits its mark in the whale's side.

"Between 1904 and 1986 about 2 million whales were killed in the southern hemisphere alone. By the early 1980s, unregulated whaling had reduced the number of humpback and grey whales by an estimated 98 per cent." The Observer

Over the past few years, Japan has been giving generous amounts of aid money to a number of poor countries that also happen to be members of the International Whaling Commission. These countries in turn have indicated that they will vote with Japan to overturn the 20 year-old global ban on whaling. Although Japan denies vote-buying, it's hard to see this as anything else. The IWC meets this week, and for the first time, it looks as though Japan may have enough votes to tip the balance.

"A loophole in IWC regulations allows pro-whaling countries to hunt about 2,000 whales a year in the name of scientific research. When the 'research' is done, the meat is packed and sold in Japanese restaurants and supermarkets.

"Last year about 1,300 whales were killed during scientific hunts, and early this year whaling fleets returned with more than 2,100. Norway's cull of 1,052 minke whales in the North Atlantic this year was its highest since the ban went into effect. Japan, meanwhile, returned from the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary with 850 minke whales - twice the previous season's take - as well as 10 fin whales, a species listed as endangered. Only last week a Japanese fleet left for the northwest Pacific, where it hopes to catch 260 minke whales.

"But if Japan and its allies win a majority in St Kitts they will have the mandate they need to use the way the IWC operates to their advantage. Campaigners fear their first step would be to end the observer status of Greenpeace and other environmental groups. The pro-whalers would also be able to abolish the commission's conservation committee and introduce secret ballots, allowing smaller countries to vote with Japan without fear of upsetting aid donors such as the US." The Observer

I received this email today from Greenpeace:

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting starts Friday 16th June at St Kitts in the Caribbean, and it is going to be heated.

We have our ship the Arctic Sunrise in the area but it has been refused access to dock at St Kitts.

We need your help - Whalers are poised to take control of this whale protection body.

Don't let them get away with it.

Greenpeace Ocean Defenders posterThe original link to an action letter on Greenpeace's website has now been deactivated due to a huge response in just a few hours, so here's something else you can do instead.

Go to Defend the Southern Ocean Sanctuary! and fill in the form to send a letter to representatives of the governments who voted for the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, asking them to do all they can to protect the whales. It's easy! There's a form letter already written, which you can change if you like, or leave it as is. It'll take you 10 seconds to make a difference. Please do it.

There are lots of other things you can do to Take Action | Defending our Oceans. Check it out! If you want to know why this is important, and need some background info on whaling, or want to see the stats, visit Save The Whales.

Wikipedia - Whaling provides a balanced summary of the arguments both for and against whaling, and also has the latest estimates of numbers remaining within the various whale populations.

As a final thought I'll leave you with this great comment from the Observer blog, posted today by nileyb:

"There are two ways to argue against whaling, both equally valid. The first applies to a huge number of marine species currently facing extinction, which is that they breed slowly and if you kill things more quickly than they can reproduce you will eventually make them extinct. Simple maths really. No species of whale is currently considered to populate the oceans in enough abundance to justify the levels of hunting that Norway and Japan are proposing. Any news to the contrary is coming only from the whaling lobbies of those countries. Sustainability and whaling are incompatable.

"The second argument is that few methods of hunting are crueller. I have seen footage of a Japanese whaling fleet killing a minke whale that was taken in January of this year. I still have nightmares about it. After repeatedly harpooning the animal, the whalers eventually resorted to holding its blowhole under the water until it drowned.

"Whales are the largest animals ever to live on earth and we are pathetic, tiny little bald apes with overgrown frontal lobes and a particular predisposition towards cruelty. When we decide to kill something the size of a whale, it is going to mean a long, slow death for the animal. This isn't the same as slaughtering a cow or a pig, or catching a salmon on a fishing line. This is a singularly brutal practice that the majority of the world abhores.

"Let no one on this planet hide behind their culture as an excuse to persist in inhuman cruelty. Anyone who buys the propaganda is a misinformed fool."

Useful links:

UPDATE 18 June:


Incredibly, and against all odds, the Japanese LOST the crucial vote at the IWC meeting on Friday!! This vote was for secret ballots, and, had Japan won, it would have seen the pro-whaling nations in control of the IWC for the first time. It was a close call - 33 votes to 30 - but WE DID IT! Fantastic!

Thanks SO much to everyone who responded to the Greenpeace call for action, and enormous thanks to the anti-whaling nations who voted at the IWC to continue to protect these incredible, endangered creatures. There's still lots to do - Japanese whalers are still killing over 1,000 whales a year in the name of "scientific research" (the remains of the whales end up on Japanese dinner plates....) - but for the moment we can breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Here are the results of the vote (for a secret ballot):

YES = 30
(these are the pro-whaling nations):

Antigua & Barbuda, Benin, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Cote d'Ivoire, Dominica, Gabon, Gambia, Grenada, Guinea, Iceland, Japan, Kiribati, South Korea, Mali, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Nauru, Nicaragua, Norway, Palau, Russian Federation, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Tuvalu.

NO = 33 (these are the anti-whaling nations):

Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Panama, Portugal, San Marino, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, USA.

Abstentions = 1:

Solomon Islands

Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! Hooray! *does Snoopy Happy Dance around the room*

Read more about it:

UPDATE 20 June:


Yesterday the IWC voted on a Japanese resolution (which was held a day earlier than expected, when Japan realised it had the numbers needed to win) advocating the removal of the 20-year moratorium on commercial hunting.

The resolution passed by 33 votes to 32. It will not end the moratorium on commercial whaling - that needs a 75 per cent majority to be overturned. It is, however, a huge political and strategic victory for Japan and its allies.

Read more about it

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~ YSRN ~ said...

Heartbreaking! I honestly, and naively, thought the whaling industry was no more.

Thanks for all the informative links. I sent my action letter!