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New Hope for Whales at IWC 55

New Hope for Whales at IWC 55

Auckland, May 21st 2003: A new initiative to be introduced by 18 countries to this year’s June meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Berlin will greatly strengthen the ability of the IWC to protect the world’s cetaceans - whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The Berlin Initiative would reorient the IWC away from exploitation of whales and toward conservation. Greenpeace says it is a timely proposal and takes into account the wide range of threats now facing cetaceans in our polluted and over-fished oceans.

In May 2003, the World Conservation Union (IUCN) warned that some cetacean species could become extinct within a decade and others remain critically endangered.

The Berlin Initiative needs the support of a majority of the IWC’s member countries to be adopted. The government of Japan and its paid supporters and pro-whaling countries like Norway and Iceland are likely to vote against it.

“Commercial whaling will always be unsustainable and belongs in the history books,” says Greenpeace oceans campaigner Sarah Duthie.

“Many countries now realise the health of our oceans and our own interests are reflected by the conservation of the world’s remaining whales, dolphins and porpoises. These animals play crucial roles in ocean ecosystems, and if we expect the seas to continue to feed us, we need to maintain the balance of those ecosystems. By actively strengthening the conservation agenda in the IWC its considerable scientific expertise can be harnessed to help remedy mistakes of the past and safeguard the oceans for the future.”

Today cetaceans face a complex array of threats posed by toxic chemicals, global warming, ozone depletion, noise pollution, over- fishing and ship strikes, many of which could not have been anticipated when the IWC was formed over half a century ago in 1946. Tens of thousands of cetaceans are annually taken as fisheries bycatch and some species and populations, like the North Atlantic right whale, the baiji, the vaquita and Western North Pacific population of gray whale, may become extinct this century unless drastic action is taken.

“The alarming predicament facing many whale, dolphin and porpoise populations reflects the severity of the wider crisis facing the oceans,” Duthie says. “Because cetaceans are at the top of the ocean food web, they are especially vulnerable to the ongoing degradation of the oceans and are an indicator of the health of those ecosystems. By working to conserve these animals and address the threats facing them, the IWC will be working to help restore our oceans as a whole. We call on all governments, pro-whaling and anti-whaling alike, to vote in favour of the Berlin Initiative at IWC 55”

The 55th meeting of the IWC takes place in Berlin, Germany from 16 - 19th June 2003.

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