Published On: September 21, 2018

International Whaling Commission

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Nations on both sides of the whale hunting debate met last week at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Florianopolis. The IWC, set up in 1946, meets every two years.

Among those countries in favor of whale hunting, the strongest voice came from Japan. The IWC chairman is from Japan, Joji Morishita, who stated the meeting would determine the future of the 89-member intergovernmental body, torn for years between conservationists and whalers. At this year’s meeting, Japan hoped to overturn the 32-year ban on commercial whale hunting.

During the meeting in Brazil, outraged conservationists declared Japan’s efforts a blatant attempt to overturn the hunting moratorium that has held together since 1986. “If Japan’s proposals are accepted it would once again be open season on whales, so this is the most dangerous and reckless attempt to bring back commercial whaling that we have seen in decades,” said Claire Bass, head of Humane Society International UK.

In addition to its attempt to overturn the ban on commercial hunting, every year Japan exploits the commercial whaling moratorium using a loophole to hunt whales for “scientific purposes.” Conservation agency Sea Shepherd says that more than 32,000 whales have been killed by Japan, Iceland, Norway, and Russia since the moratorium on whale hunting began in 1986, using the justification of scientific purposes. Conservationists want this practice to be halted as well.

IWC Conference in Florianopolus

IWC Conference in Florianopolis

Brazil opposes whale hunting and was trying to rally anti-whaling nations behind a “Florianopolis Declaration,” which states that commercial whaling is no longer a necessary economic activity, favoring increased investment in whale watching. The Declaration seeks to change the role of the IWC from a focus on managing stocks to a conservation body, and the Declaration’s adoption would allow the recovery of all whale populations to pre-industrial whaling levels.

Supporters of continuing the ban on commercial whaling including Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, and Peru all supported the “Florianopolis Declaration.” The Declaration affirms the moratorium on commercial whaling and agrees that the use of lethal research methods – killing whales for research – is unnecessary.

Brazil’s Environment Minister Edson Duarte told the opening session of the IWC conference that it was “time for progress, not setbacks,” reminding delegates of their “duty to give definitive direction to the conservation of cetaceans.” Duarte also said Brazil was proposing to create a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary with partners Argentina, Gabon, South Africa, and Uruguay. Previous attempts to introduce a sanctuary in the South Atlantic were defeated by pro-whaling nations. Unfortunately, during this year’s meeting, the proposal for the whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic also did not receive enough support to pass.


The whale sanctuary would have provided a noise-free region for whales. Whales use sound to help navigate the vast oceans, but human-caused noise pollution can interfere with their ability to sense their environment and communicate with each other over vast distances. This acoustic “fog” can have a serious detrimental impact on whales, while other forms of noise pollution from industrial or military activity can cause physical harm.

With whales breaching and spouting huge plumes of misty air in Florianopolis Bay – clearly visible from the conference delegates’ hotels – Brazil and Japan were proposing two diametrically opposed visions of how to manage whaling.

Japan presented a “Way Forward” document that would create a “Sustainable Whaling Committee” for nations wishing to allow their people to hunt healthy whale populations for commercial purposes. However, anti-whaling members like Brazil, Australia, the European Union, and New Zealand blocked Japan’s Way Forward. Japan’s proposal would commit the IWC to re-establish commercial whaling quotas from 2020. Under its scientific whaling program, Japanese fishermen harpooned 333 Minke whales this year. Iceland and Norway are the only countries that allow commercial whaling and came under renewed pressure at the IWC meeting to change their position.

Whale hunt in Japan

Whale hunt in Japan

“This meeting is critical,” said Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. “Member countries must stand together and push progress towards whale protection, not let this commission be pulled back into the bygone era of commercial whaling.”

Other key issues discussed in the week-long conference were risks to whales of human-made underwater noise pollution, ship strikes, climate change, and fishing gear entanglement.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the International Whaling Commission rejected Japan’s proposal to end the global moratorium on commercial whaling. Japan’s proposal to reinstate commercial whaling received no consensus, and Japan then pushed for a vote, which required a three-quarters majority to pass. However, it achieved only 27 votes in support with 41 countries against and two abstentions.

Sea Shepherd’s founder Captain Paul Watson, who has spent many years opposing Japan’s scientific research killing, said: “Following yesterday’s most welcome Florianopolis Declaration, this defeat of the Japanese proposal has made the 67th meeting of the International Whaling Commission an important historical event for the world’s whales.”

For further information, check the YouTube video: “Brazil: World Whaling Conference.”



[Research for this article is from the AFP and AP news agencies and]

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