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Socio-Economic Implications And Small-Type Whaling

60th Annual And Associated Meetings, Santiago, Chile 2008; Press Release - Day 3 - Wednesday 25 June

The Commission began with consideration of socio-economic implications and small-type whaling. As in previous years, Japan referred to the hardship suffered by its four community-based whaling communities since the implementation of the commercial whaling moratorium.

In previous years, Japan has requested a vote on its proposal to relieve this hardship but this year, because of the progress it saw in the discussions related to the future of the IWC, it did not do so. The Chair of the Commission thanked Japan for its co-operative attitude.

The Commission then turned to the issue of special permit whaling. This year, the Scientific Committee completed its work to develop a new method for the review of such permits. This will involve holding a small expert workshop that will be able to review new proposals, or the results of existing proposals, in an independent manner. The new process will be used for the first time to review the results of the JARPN II programme. The Commission endorsed this process.

With respect to special permit whaling programmes, In 2007, a total of 551 Antarctic minke whales were taken under the JARPA II programme, while 207 common minke, 100 sei, 50 Bryde's and 3 sperm whales were taken under the JARPN II programme in the North Pacific.

The sampling stage for the Icelandic programme has now been completed, the 34 common minke whales taken in 2007 bringing the total to 200. When the final results are available, the programme will be subject to an IWC review following the agreed new procedure.

The issue of special permit whaling deeply divides the Commission and as in previous years, strong statements both in favour and against lethal research programmes were made.

The next item of business related to environmental and health issues. It received the report of the Scientific Committee on a number of matters related to environmental factors that affect cetaceans. In particular, the Committee will be holding two important workshops during the intersessional period: one on the effects of climate change on cetaceans; and the other on the second phase of the Commission's POLLUTION 2000+ programme looking at the effects of chemical pollutants on cetaceans.

After completion of this discussion, for the first time in its history, the Commission allowed non-governmental organisations to address the plenary session. Three NGOs from each side of the spectrum were given five minutes each to speak. The organisations selected by their peers were Cento de Conservacion Cetacea, the High North Alliance, WWF, the Women's Forum for Fish, Greenpeace and Concepesca.

Finally the Commission received a presentation from the Scientific Committee with respect to the remaining items of its report. In particular, it had undertaken a review of small cetaceans in the southeastern Pacific region (Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile). Relatively little is known about these populations and the Committee developed a number of research recommendations. However, there are matters of conservation concern. The first relates to both habitat degradation and exclusion of small cetaceans from their habitat by aquaculture developments. The second relates to the fact that a number of small coastal populations, including bottlenose dolphin, Peale's dolphin, and spotted dolphins may be threatened by unregulated and undocumented takes.

The Committee then went on to discuss progress on its previous recommendations on small cetaceans.

The most serious concern of all relates to the probable extinction of the vaquita unless immediate action is taken. There are at most 150 animals left of this species which is only found in the upper Gulf of California, Mexico. The Committee expressed great frustration that despite more than a decade of warnings this species has continued on a rapid path towards extinction due to lack of effective conservation measures. The Committee strongly recommended that if extinction is to be avoided, gillnets should be removed from immediately. The Committee encouraged the international community, including IWC member countries and NGOs to assist Mexico in their conservation measures.

The Committee also reaffirmed its concern about the conservation status of the Boto, and the fact that directed killing of this species continue without restriction or catch limits; the population has probably declined by over 50% in the last decade. The Committee recommended that immediate steps be taken by Brazil, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela to stop this hunt, and that range states provide information to next year's meeting on progress in this regard.

Finally, the Committee reiterated its concern for the stocks of Dall's porpoise off Japan and repeated its previous recommendation that catches should be reduced to sustainable levels, that the bycatch levels be quantified and that a full assessment of each of the affected populations be conducted as soon as possible.

The Commission endorsed the recommendations of the Scientific Committee with a number of countries echoing the Committee's concerns over these issues. Mexico announced that it has a US$16m fund for the recovery of the vaquita. Brazil stated that it has established a national working group to examine the issue of the boto.

The Scientific Committee then reported that the IWC IDCR/SOWER (Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research) programme has now been running research cruises in the Antarctic for 30 years. It has provided extremely valuable information on whales in Antarctic waters south of 60°S, especially Antarctic minke whales, blue whales, humpback whales and southern right whales. The research work is designed by the IWC Scientific Committee who also appoint the international scientists; the vessel and crew is generously provided to the Commission by the Government of Japan. To celebrate this achievement, there will be an expanded dedicated section of the IWC website and a special scientific volume.

After completing its discussions on the Scientific Committee report, the Commission then began to look at the report of its Conservation Committee. The first item on its agenda related to the occurrence of small numbers of 'stinky' inedible gray whales in the hunt off Chukotka, Russia. Research is underway to try to determine the cause. Attention then turned to the issue of ship strikes (collisions of whales with ships). The Commission has developed an international database to collect information on this problem in order to help it assess its conservation importance by species and area and to assist in the development of mitigation measures. A dedicated section of the website is being developed on the issue of ship strikes and the Commission is working with a number of other relevant organisations on this including IMO, ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS. The Commission has agreed to assist in providing relevant information and data for inclusion in the database.

ENDS

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