The 64th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) - A positive step for conservation
Photo Courtesy of NOAA National Ocean Service
The 64th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) concluded this week, after five days of intense discussion. The annual gatherings have consistently been overshadowed by animosity between pro-whaling and anti-whaling nations, since the commission voted to ban commercial whaling in 1968. This year in Panama City, the IWC appeared to make positive ground on many whaling issues, creating optimism for the future conservation of cetaceans and marine habitats.
This week participants focused on producing initiatives aimed at minimising threats to whales and dolphins. One of the main objectives considered were the concerns arising from marine debris. Unfortunately, synthetic materials caused by human water pollution are far too common – reportedly harming 267 species through ingestion and ensnarement. Plastic debris persists in the environment for considerable lengths of time, degrading into micro particles resulting in toxins within the food chain. Steps to implement an IWC marine debris workshop were however approved this week, creating progress in the right direction for many marine habitats and species.
One of the other major concerns is minimising anthropogenic noise pollution, which has been found to disorientate whale species, having detrimental effects on highly threatened cetaceans. The proposition of further worldwide oil and gas probing could negatively impact efforts to conserve marine environments. These concerns were expressed by Monaco’s commissioner, in a bid to reduce exploration by oil companies. Loud drilling pulse noises have previously caused grey whales with an estimated remaining population of 150, to abandon their sole feeding territories. Thus the concerns raised are highly significant.
One of the most controversial topics under discussion this week was the prospect of Japans ‘scientific whaling’ programme. The nation uses a clause in the IWC whale killing prohibition, by conducting ‘dietary research’ on minke whales, resulting in the death of 1000 whales in the Antarctic each year. Korea is now proposing this programme with a declaration of intent to conduct scientific killings. This is notably a backward step in the protection of these endangered creatures, as populations face more threats than ever before. Members strongly urged Korea to discontinue this proposal, to prevent the brutal and unnecessary slaughter of many whale populations. Only time will tell the true impacts of Korea’s agenda.
A further topic was the suggestion to establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic. This was highly supported, however did not achieve a majority three quarter support for its implementation. A positive outcome emerged however as Greenland’s request to increase their aboriginal whale catching quota was rejected. If accepted the quota would have allowed for the death of 1,326 whales between 2013 and 2018 by indigenous people. This rejection provided hope to many conservationists and the future of many humpback, minke and bowhead whales is at least for now slightly more promising.
Overall this year’s meeting raised some significant issues, and made steps towards the positive implementation of cetacean conservation. The IWC have decided this year however to extend future scheduled meetings and implement a biennial gathering. The 65th IWC meeting will therefore take place in 2014.
If you would like to make a difference and get involved in marine projects around the world, Frontier have a range of conservation programmes which are contributing to the future protection of many marine habitats and species.
By Laura Burton