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Sustainable Whaling Is Just So Much Blubber - Lee

A background feature by Sandra Lee,
Minister of Conservation,
Wellington, New Zealand

New Zealand has a proud reputation as a country that seeks the greatest possible protection for whales worldwide and one that is strongly opposed to a return to commercial whaling.

What appears not to be as clearly understood is that New Zealand has also consistently supported the traditional rights of indigenous peoples for the customary harvesting of whales, where these requests meet the criteria set down by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The IWC criteria for allowing indigenous quotas for the great whales, such as gray whales and bowhead whales, (which all members of the IWC agree fall under IWC control), require that the Commission recognise both the cultural and subsistence needs of the indigenous peoples seeking the quota.

In recognition of the special needs of indigenous peoples, quotas for indigenous whaling may be set for species whose low population levels would not allow for commercial whaling, provided that the level of take does not prevent a recovery of the population.

An examination of the voting record at the IWC on indigenous quotas demonstrates that, with one exception in 1998, New Zealand has consistently supported the allocation of quotas to indigenous peoples who meet the IWC criteria.

It is of concern, therefore, that the World Council of Whalers (WCW) continues to suggest that the New Zealand Government and successive delegations to the IWC have not supported the traditional harvesting rights of indigenous whalers. This is simply not borne out by the facts.

There is also no scientific justification for assertions that there are more than a million minke whales worldwide.

Indeed the July 2000 meeting of the IWC's Scientific Committee totally rejected the often-quoted 1992 estimate of 760,000 minkes in the Southern Hemisphere, noting that new survey data would result in a significantly lower number.

At present, there is no accepted estimate for Southern Hemisphere minke whale populations. The populations of the other great whale species in the Southern Hemisphere are mostly severely depleted. Blue, fin and sei whales are at less than 5% of their numbers in 1900, while humpbacks and southern rights are probably around 10%.

These facts call into question assertions during a New Zealand visit late last year by Dan Goodman, a Japanese Government delegate to last year's IWC meeting in Adelaide (who is also expected to be present in Apia this week for the SPREP meeting). He assured a Television New Zealand programme that there are now 780,000 minke whales for the taking in the Antarctic. The Japanese whaling fleet's departure for Antarctic waters late last year, where it intended killing up to 440 minke whales for supposed research into their feeding patterns and stock structure drew widespread international criticism. Dan Goodman tried to assure New Zealanders that "taking 400 a year (was) a very small number". However if the IWC's scientific committee couldn't determine the population, how could Mr Goodman and the Japanese whalers be certain of what was a "small" number?

The implication that indigenous peoples need to sell the products to fund their subsistence whaling activities suggests confused thinking.

The IWC specifically exempted indigenous peoples from the restrictions placed on commercial whaling, including the opportunity to hunt some depleted species, because it recognised the particular needs.

It is fair to note that some indigenous peoples are concerned that CITES, the convention on international trade in endangered species, and New Zealand's own domestic legislation preclude the export of artwork and other products from whale material.

But any failure on our part to do so would risk encouraging illegal poaching by some countries, similar to the travesty that is the black market in trade of elephant ivory.

Sadly, there have been examples in recent years of illegal whaling operations involving attempts to smuggle whale meat onto the lucrative Japanese market. DNA-testing of meat on the markets of Tokyo and other Japanese cities has revealed the presence of protected species such as blue whale, sei whale and humpback whale.

Given that the great majority of WCW members came from Arctic regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific, it appeared to be at best a poor use of financial resources to select Aotearoa/New Zealand as the venue for their Annual Meeting late last year. It would be interesting to learn more about the funding support that has enabled the WCW to bring so many delegates such a long distance.

If the intention of the organisers of the World Council of Whalers meeting was to persuade the New Zealand Government to change its policies on whaling, they would be disappointed.

At the end of the day, Maori and other indigenous people need to be vigilant to ensure that we are never used as stalking horses by those seeking a resumption of commercial whaling interests. We also must never ourselves be guilty of cultural double-standards by being selective in espousing our cultural relationship with these amazing ancient mammals of the deep.

For my own people, at least, we must balance our customary use of the material from stranded whales against our other relationship with them. Some iwi (New Zealand Maori tribes) regard the whale as an ancestor. My own iwi holds to the tradition that we were guided by one to New Zealand.

Perhaps the best message that iwi can contribute is that the whale has sustained indigenous people all the world over in times past, when the animals were not massively hunted, and now we indigenous people have a duty to sustain these amazing creatures for their own sake.

E tangata ke koutou
E tangata ke matou
I roto i tenei whare
Tatou tatou e.

Te tohora maranga mai
Ka tahi ka piki ka ruku
I roto nga moana katoa
Ratou, tatou e.

You are one people
We are one people
In this house
We are united.

The whale is on the rise
They rise and dive
They traverse all oceans
They, us together.


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