On Friday, the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting came to a close with a whimper. This year’s gathering was held in Chile, and the meeting’s chairperson, United States delegate William Hogarth, made a gutsy and stupid decision. Hogarth wanted to avoid confrontations at this year’s meeting, with the hope of creating good will among countries. He pontificated that this good will could be used to find solutions in the future (not now). Translation: he pleaded for member countries not to vote on or discuss important issues that concern whales. Based on what happened (or more accurately, did not happen), the meeting was very unsuccessful.
Why Was There Tension at This Year’s Meeting?
Japan and other countries like Norway and Iceland are currently killing whales, despite dangerously low numbers for certain species. This has triggered significant disapproval from countries like Australia, who are vehemently opposed to whaling. Japan claims that they kill approximately 1,000 whales each year for scientific purposes. Many countries and environmentalists view this explanation as a blatant lie. They think Japan simply wants to kill whales so that they can sell and eat the meat (Iceland and Norway just want to sell it to Japan it seems). Angered by international criticism of their whaling practices, Japan has threatened to withdraw as a member nation of the International Whaling Commission, barring the condition that countries agree to allow sustainable whaling of abundant whale species.
What Were the Outcomes of This Year’s Meeting?
After this week’s meeting, it seems hard to think of there being much success to talk about. Things got off to a good start as Chile announced that they were initiating a permanent ban on whaling. A proposal by several Latin American countries to create a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary was unfortunately withdrawn at the urging of people like William Hogarth. The only other major events were
- a vote that barely blocked Greenland from hunting 10 more humpback whales per year. 36 member nations voted against the proposal, and 29 voted for it.
- the creation of sub-set of member nations to work on building consensus on contentious issues over the next year.
After the meeting, Reuters ran an article with the title: “Whales lose, Japan wins as whaling meeting ends.” The article includes various quotes of people involved in the meeting, and basically confirms this author’s suspicion that the meeting was largely a bust. AFP quoted William Hogarth as saying he was “very pleased” with the outcome of the meeting. His effort to build consensus at the meeting by doing nothing was, in fact, an incredibly stupid strategy. Japan’s representative was quoted after the meeting as saying “the world is witnessing the death of an international organization.” If Japan is not going to get on board the Hogarth Good Will Express, then what’s the point?
I personally am not opposed to finding a sustainable whaling solution that seeks some middle ground. Perhaps there are some species of whales that are abundant enough to allow for a minimal, token amount of whaling. Having a meeting where nothing of importance is discussed though, in my mind is just plain stupid. Hopefully William Hogarth has lost his chance at chairing any more of the International Whaling Commission’s meetings.
Next year’s International Whaling Commission meeting will be held in Portugal, and hopefully Portugal will announce a permanent ban on Hogarth chairing any more meetings.