As I write this chapter of Whales and Whaling in the Caribbean, International Whaling Commission delegates from around the world are making their way home from the commission’s annual meeting on St. Kitts (June, 2006). Pro-whaling factions led by Japan gained majority on the IWC by one vote; however, they lost four critical votes and did not gain a strong enough majority to bring about the return of commercial whaling this year.
My journey with the whales of the Caribbean began over 20 years ago during a whale watching trip on the Stellwagen Bank off the coast of Provincetown, Massachusetts, when a very large Humpback silently rose from the water not 4 feet from me. I will never forget that small, dark, soulful eye in that very large head nor will I forget the feeling of being so very close to such a magnificent, ancient animal. Since the whales of the Stellwagen Bank come to the Caribbean in the winter to mate and calve, I hope that “my” whale survives today, coming here to bear young that will perpetuate the species.
Unfortunately, as readers have learned over the eight months this series has appeared in All At Sea, whaling continues today in spite of a worldwide moratorium put into effect in 1986. While the moratorium did not ban aboriginal whaling so long as it was done, as the moratorium states, for “subsistence needs of their people”; even the aboriginal whalers of Bequia in St. Vincent and the Grenadines have violated several points of that exclusion in the moratorium.
Japan continues to hunt whales commercially under the guise of scientific research, a loophole in the moratorium. Dr. Carol Carlson, a world renowned scientist who has studied whales around the world for the past 26 years, and who organized and has led the International Whaling Commission’s Whale Watch subcommittee for the past 10 years, estimates that Japan has killed some 20,000 whales since the moratorium was instated.
In spite of Dr. Carlson’s best efforts in consistently demonstrating that whale watching is much more profitable and creates many more jobs than does whale hunting, Japan has led a campaign to sway the votes of Caribbean and African IWC member countries through “agricultural and fisheries” assistance and many expense-paid trips to Japan for government officials from these countries. This resulted in approximately $100 million in both monetary payments and new fish processing facilities on islands such as Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & The Grenadines, facilities that could convert to processing whales.
The St. Kitts & Nevis IWC delegate voted for the return of commercial whaling. Even though tourism officials, tourism business owners, and the general public on St. Kitts and Nevis objected to supporting Japan’s bid to resume commercial whaling, the government ignored not only its citizens’ but also its own tourism officials’ mandate.
Instead, government officials who had accepted trips to Japan directed the St. Kitts and Nevis IWC delegate to vote with Japan on all issues including the “ St. Kitts and Nevis Declaration,” entered into the agenda of the IWC by the St. Kitts and Nevis delegate. In summary the declaration called for the return of commercial whaling in order to “diversify agriculture”, provide “food security and poverty reduction”, and “make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry”. The declaration further states that “whales consume huge quantities of fish making the issue (the return of commercial whaling) a matter of food security.”
The St. Kitts Declaration put forth yet again the notion that whales are depleting the world’s oceans of fish. Many of the whale species now protected by the 1986 moratorium are baleen whales which are filter feeders, feeding upon plankton and krill. It is not whales that are depleting fish stocks but rather over-fishing by huge trawlers and factory ships taking not only targeted species but killing thousands of dolphins and sea turtles as they drag miles of nets destroying reefs that are the nurseries necessary to protect fish as they grow.
Japan’s delegation to the IWC meeting on St. Kitts also put up for vote a rule change wherein all voting would be kept secret. This measure was defeated as was the second measure, again introduced by Japan, to remove small cetaceans such as dolphins and small whale species from IWC oversight; a measure introduced to legitimize Japan’s widely criticized killing of approximately 20,000 dolphin per year in drive fisheries.
The third measure presented for vote by Japan was the abolishment of the Southern Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica where Japan’s whaling fleet sails each spring to kill 1,000 Minke and endangered Fin whales for “scientific purposes.” Japan’s fourth measure was the instituting of commercial whaling in its coastal communities. Both of these measures were defeated.
Upon loosing the coastal whaling vote, the Japanese delegation’s spokesman, Joji Morishita, stated, “We are glad this is not a secret vote. Japan will remember which countries supported this proposal and which countries said no”.
While four measures intended to ease the return of commercial whaling were defeated, the vote to resume commercial whaling was supported by one vote (33 – 32); however, the 75% majority needed for resumption was not achieved. The IWC meets again next year in Anchorage, Alaska, and it is certain that these same measures will be presented again.
The world lost over 90% of the world’s large whales during the reign of commercial whaling. While pro-whaling nations such as Japan insist that whale stocks have recovered since the 1986 moratorium was put in place, legitimate science does not support this theory.
If government officials of the Caribbean community, especially those from island nations belonging to the IWC truly want to provide security for their peoples they will look to development of whale watching and other eco-tourism venues. These endeavors will benefit the many, rather than the few who accept Japan’s support, and they will preserve our rich marine environment for generations to come.