With the support of WWF Belgium, our Co-Founder and Science director Dr Els Vermeulen, participated in the 66th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in October in Portoroz, Slovenia, as part of the Belgian Delegation. After 10 days of intensive discussions, strategic planning, and carefully reading and debating all the amendments to the proposed resolutions, the meetings have come to an end.
This year’s conference, which coincided with the IWC’s 70th anniversary and the 30th birthday of the moratorium on whaling, were all in all good for cetacean conservation! For example, a resolution to improve the review process of any scientific whaling program, proposed by Australia and New Zealand, was adopted with a vast majority of the votes in favour. This will result in the establishment of a Standing Work Group that will consider the reports of the Scientific Committee regarding any lethal scientific research conducted. The resolution should also guarantee all data from such lethal research programs to be available to the Scientific Committee for their evaluation. Another resolution, which was adopted, relates to the recognition of cetacean’s contributions to ecosystem services (and note the word “cetaceans” versus the more commonly used word “whales”!). This is a huge step forward as we are now confirming we don’t just like whales and dolphins - we actually need them! Another, rather interesting resolution adopted by consensus (!!), will lead to the establishment of an independent review of the IWC’s institutional and governance arrangements in order to enhance the effectiveness of the organisation which seems to have been in a deadlock for the past few years.
Other adopted resolutions include the collaboration of the IWC with the Minamata Convention and the creation of a fund within IWC to aid countries with limited means to participate in IWC activities. However, the most important step taken towards cetacean conservation, is the resolution (also adopted by consensus (!!)) on the endangered Vaquita in which the IWC endorses the work of the Mexican government and aims to help end the illegal trade in totoaba swim bladders and the related gill nets, responsible for the dead of many Vaquitas each year. Let’s hope these efforts are still on time, and positive results can be discussed in the coming IWC meetings. Within the same context, from now on “bycatch” will be included as a separate topic in the Conservation Committee, with a working group focussing on this severe conservation problem.
More good news relates to the withdrawal of a resolution proposed by Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea on the recognition of the human right for food security. Suspiciously looking like a strategic step towards the request of new whaling quotas in 2018, this seems like a positive step “backwards”. The only real drawback this year was the failure to adopt the resolution on the creation of a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, proposed by Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and Gabon. However, it is most likely the proposal will be back on the table in the next plenary meetings in 2018. Interestingly, they will be held in Brazil with the Japanese commissioner as chair…
As the meetings were closing, the Belgian and Luxembourg delegation choose to end on a positive note, and introduced a “cetacean related tie competition” in which all females attendants could vote for the most beautiful whale or dolphin tie. Entertainingly, a Japanese delegate won with a tie reflecting a “moby dick” theme. This was the first time in 70 years an intervention was made with the aim to break tension and end such intensive debates in a more relaxed way. In our opinion, let’s encourage such an intervention again next time!!
For specific results of all the resolutions: