A tide of information on politics, environment, and ocean issues

News and information from Washington, DC

Archive for May 6th, 2010

Today is a good day to wear a Whale Tie

leave a comment »

It’s time for everybody to visibly show their support for these majestic sea creatures.Whale Tie   

This morning the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on issues surrounding the International Whaling Commission (IWC) – namely the fact that many years after signing a convention to put in place a moratorium on whaling we are still allowing the killing and consumption of a disturbing number of whales by Japan, Norway and Iceland.   

Even in places with names that make the uninformed of us feel quite happy about our progress on protecting marine life, like the “southern ocean sanctuary” which sounds nice, until one realizes that Japan still conducts whaling there too. Given that Japan is the nation with the largest whaling catch, the Japanese’s continuing to kill whales means it’s not much of a sanctuary.   

Similarly, a moratorium on whaling, with small exceptions for indigenous and subsistence take, sounds good too. Until you realize that one exception to the moratorium is “scientific collections.” Japan takes a lot of scientific collections, and unlike the U.S., which is able to conduct its DNA research with just a non lethal plug of tissue removed for study, Japan seems to think they need the whole whale. So what does one do with a whale after you kill it to study it? Well, you eat it of course. And make a commercial profit in the process. Such is the rationale that Japan, Norway and Iceland have been using for years to continue their commercial whale harvest.   

House Foreign Affairs Committe hearing on the International Whaling Commission

David Bolton, State, and Monica Medina, NOAA, testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

 

So the question before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee today was how do you get allies of the U.S. to change their behavior when it is clear that they adamantly do not want to stop the commercial harvest of whales? Are sanctions the answer? As David Bolton, U.S. State Department, stated today, no prior Administration has even been willing to use sanctions against allies to encourage them to stop the commercial harvest of whales. This begs the obvious question: Will the Obama Administration be any different from their predecessors?   

One solution to the illegal harvest of whales that is being floated by the International Whaling Commission is legalizing some portion of Japan, Norway and Iceland’s illegal commercial whale harvest. In a move that would never be acceptable to a community – politicians saying that an illegal activity is on the decrease, only because you eliminated killing from the definition of the illegal activities – the U.S. delegation is actually contemplating supporting some variation of the IWC proposal.   

Aside from my personal feeling that killing these majestic creatures as a luxury food item is wrong in the most basic sense of wrong, even if you didn’t think that whales are anything special the IWC proposal is flawed and quite dangerous.   

IWC experts testified today that even if you want to treat whales just like any other sea creature that we see fit to kill for our own pleasures, adopting the kill numbers in the IWC proposal is potentially devastating to whale populations. Why? Because the basic scientific stock assessment of most whale species, which needs to be completed before one could determine the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) number is determined, has yet to be completed. In other words, while Norway, Iceland and Japan claim that their commercial harvest of whales is actually for science, here we are decades later and there is no international consensus on stock assessments for the whales being killed and eaten.   

And even if you don’t think whales are special creatures, and even if you don’t care if we carelessly pick harvest numbers which might cause the demise of various whale species, if you are on the side of promoting any size legal commercial whale harvest you are still wrong. Wrong because there is evidence that whales, orcas for instance, that are accumulating disturbingly high levels of dangerous chemicals in their bodies. Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society’s work to highlight “flame proof killer whales,” which are loaded synthetic flame retardant chemicals, is enough to make one think shouldn’t be eating whale meat. Check out Jean-Michel Cousteau’s video and his cautionary message to political leaders who are considering the IWC proposal. I think his message is spot on. And I hope the White House international trade staff break new ground and begins to do what no other Administration has done: bring the full political and economic influence of the U.S. to bear to address an ocean policy issue.   

Japan proved it could easily dominate the U.S. when we attended the CITES convention and supported the listing of blue fin tuna by CITES. Let’s hope that us getting our rears kicked in the tuna arena motivates the Office of the United States Trade Representative to get behind the members of the House Foreign Relations Committee and begins a serious dialog at the highest political levels about options to defeat the IWC proposal and to find other ways to stop Norway, Iceland and Japan’s illegal whaling.   

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.
A bio for Mr. Nuckols is located at www.WilliamHNuckols.com