Pew Whale Symposium Offers Ray of Hope for Resolving Whale Controversy

Pew Whale Symposium Offers Ray of Hope for Resolving Whale Controversy

One hundred participants from 28 nationalities met in Tokyo for a two-day symposium aimed at generating good will and a positive climate to help resolve the ongoing controversy surrounding the future of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The Pew Whale Symposium comes at a time of heightened international tensions related to Japan's so-called scientific whaling program and amid growing concern over the future of the IWC. Judge Tuiloma Neroni Slade, former Presiding Judge of the International Criminal Court and previously Ambassador of Samoa to the United Nations, chaired the Pew Whale Symposium, which brought together government officials, environmentalists, policy makers, scientists and others from around the world.

“The moratorium on commercial whaling remains a singular environmental accomplishment and is responsible for saving many species of whales from extinction,” said Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group and host of the symposium. “However, amid growing signs that the moratorium is weakening, with more whales killed in 2006 that in any year since it went into effect in 1986, I am encouraged by a renewed sense of commitment to the long-term conservation of the world's whales.”

The Pew Environment Group would like to see a resolution to the entrenched positions within the IWC. It held the first symposium in New York in April 2007, bringing together the conservation community, scientists, policy experts and others from both inside the ‘IWC community' and beyond. The Tokyo symposium takes the dialogue a step further. By holding the symposium in the heart of the main pro-whaling country, we are trying to open up the dialogue to those interested in effective and possibly pragmatic solutions. The results of the Pew Whale Symposium precedes the 4-6 March 2008 Intercessional meeting of the IWC in London, England and the annual meeting in Santiago, Chile, this June.

“The Tokyo Symposium was designed to seek a way forward and away from the impasse that dominates the work of the IWC. We invited participants to engage in an open and constructive dialogue that would inform and broaden perspectives, and to do so with real understanding,” said Judge Neroni Slade. “Ultimately, it is that degree of understanding that will produce the ability and confidence for all parties to face up to the realities of feasible alternatives and, hopefully, to find solutions.”

In his chairman's summary of the symposium, Judge Slade noted several important areas of agreement:

  • First, the International Whaling Commission has produced significant benefits for whale conservation, but conflict at the IWC is escalating.
  • Second, endangered whale species deserve absolute protection. Recovery is progressing for some species but not for others. 
  • Third, an internationally-accepted solution is preferable, although whether the political will exists to support such an outcome is uncertain.
  • Fourth, relative to other international conventions, the IWC is outdated, less transparent, flexible and responsive. The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling itself does not include many elements of more modern international conservation agreements, such as references to the precautionary approach, ecosystem approach, or conflict resolution – or clear criteria or definitions.
  • And finally, there are a range of important legal, scientific, ethical, social and cultural issues that need to be considered in defining a way forward. Ultimately, however, the resolution of these conflicts is political not scientific.

Pew Environment Group's Whale Conservation Project
Whales are the largest and most charismatic of all marine species. Relentless hunting in the 19th and 20th centuries brought many whale species to the point of extinction. As a result, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) adopted a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling that went into effect in 1986. However, the moratorium did not put an end to the killing of whales. Today, Japan and Norway continue to hunt whales under loopholes in the moratorium. Roughly 2,000 whales are killed by these nations each year, including endangered and vulnerable species such as fin whales.

Similar to many international bodies, the IWC's rules apply only to those member states that agree to be bound by them. For example, Norway and Iceland, though members of the IWC, can “opt out” of the moratorium. Countries are also allowed to grant themselves permits for “scientific” whaling operations, which is the basis for Japan's continued whaling program. These loopholes undermine the IWC's credibility and effectiveness to the point that there is now almost universal agreement on the need for serious reform.

In order to prevent the continued unfettered killing of whales in the world's oceans, and to ensure the enforceability of international measures aimed at protecting them, the Pew Environment Group launched a major initiative in 2007 designed to resolve the global conflict over whales so that future generations can continue to watch and enjoy these magnificent creatures.