BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Sci/Tech
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Dr Ray Gambell, IWC secretary
"We are an old convention"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 12:37 GMT 13:37 UK
Whaling commission struggles to survive
A grey whale in the Arctic: Whales are potent symbols
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Some of the great whales have been so depleted by centuries of hunting that their survival is now in doubt.

Ironically, exactly the same is true of the body that exists to safeguard them, the International Whaling Commission.

The IWC was set up in 1946 to protect whales, and to protect whaling. It is not clear that it can continue to do both.

It is supposed to be a science-based body. But most of its members are committed anti-whalers who are absolutely opposed to the resumption of hunting.

They regard whaling as inhumane, unnecessary, and deeply unpopular with their electorates. And they reject out of hand any argument that some species are abundant enough for a limited catch.

Urged to leave

This year's IWC meeting in the Australian city of Adelaide has heard a warning that the commission faces a slide into "terminal irrelevancy".

It came from Rune Frovik, of the High North Alliance, a pro-whaling group with members from Canada, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland and Norway.

Bowheads were hunted almost to extinction
Mr Frovik urged his own country, Norway, to leave the IWC, and said Japan should do the same. They are the two countries which continue to catch whales - legally, under IWC rules, but in the face of fierce opposition from most members.

Another HNA member, Sveinn Gudmundsson, told BBC News Online from Adelaide: "The alliance can't see any point in taking part in the IWC.

"It should be concerned with managing whaling, but if people want to see the whales managed, there's no possibility at the moment within the IWC.

"We have a very good alternative in the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission, NAMMCO."

Most IWC members see NAMMCO as an unofficial upstart rival designed to speed the resumption of commercial whaling.

If Japan and Norway left the IWC, they would continue to kill whales. And any other country could start whaling as well. There could be anarchy, and an end to the fragile protection the whales enjoy today.

Looking for support

In the vote against the proposed South Pacific whale sanctuary, Japan and Norway enlisted the support of nine other IWC members.

Some of those supporting them will have done so for reasons of their own. But some, including several small Caribbean states, may have done so in gratitude for Japan's foreign aid.

Humpbacks are famed for their songs
Some years ago, I was told by an IWC commissioner from the Caribbean what sometimes happened.

"The Japanese will visit us, and look round the island. 'Oh, you need a hospital here, and perhaps a school', they'll say.

"Then they give us a cheque. And as they're leaving they say: 'You will remember that the IWC is meeting in a couple of months, won't you?' "

Japan denies that it attempts to buy votes in this way, though few IWC members are completely convinced by its denials.

Survival in doubt

The IWC's dilemma is that it is a scientific body, not a law enforcement agency. It has no gunboats, but operates from a modest suburban house in Cambridge in eastern England.

Its dedicated staff try to implement the decisions of the member governments, most of whom want an end to all whaling.

But while a minority insists that science is on their side, the IWC will remain dangerously split - if it survives at all.

The IWC secretary, Dr Ray Gambell, has said he thinks the Commission will lose all credibility if it does not end the moratorium on commercial whaling it introduced in 1986.

He told the BBC: "We are an old convention, and the world has moved on since 1946."

Images courtesy of US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console

Talking PointFORUM
Whaling ban
Quiz Dr Ray Gambell in Adelaide
See also:

04 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Whale sanctuary rejected
03 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Minke whale numbers 'declining'
30 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Battle royal erupts on whaling
19 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Japan campaigns for whaling
11 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Whaling ban set to end
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Sci/Tech stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Sci/Tech stories