Foes of Whaling Lack Logic

(from "The Japan Times", 8/Nov/1994)

Kunio Yonezawa
Former Japanese representative on the International Whaling Commission

For more than 20 years, whaling has been both an emotional and a political issue. Science, logic and trust among nations have, thus far, been the losers.

It all began as a political wrangle in late 1971, when the secretary general of the United Nations Conference on Human Environment introduced an agenda item to consider a 10-year moratorium on all commercial whaling, alleging that all whale species were threatened with extinction.

As I witnessed, and as documents in the United States National Archives corroborate, this last-minute maneuver was, it appeared, part of a grand design to divert the Stockholm Conference's attention from the mounting bitter criticism of the Vietnam War.

The ploy succeeded and the conference adopted the resolution. The U.S. delegation then proceeded triumphantly to London for the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

However, this time, just two weeks later, the U.S. found itself stunningly defeated by the ruling of the IWC's Scientific Committee. The committee had considered the resolution and had ruled unanimously - including the two top U.S. scientific aides in Stockholm - that "there is no scientific justification for the blanket moratorium."

Failing to prevail with this extinction approach, antiwhaling delegations gradually shifted their strategy to the more salable one of uncertainty and inadequacy of available scientific information.

This, they thought, combined with recruitment of new members voting in their favor, would enable them to prevail. (The number of IWC member nations mushroomed from 17 in 1972 to 39 in 1982. Prominent leaders of antiwhaling nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) found it advantageous to seat themselves in many of these new delegations as commissioners, spokesmen or scientists.)

When in 1982, they finally succeeded in having their coveted resolution for a moratorium adopted, the moratorium had, however, still never been recommended by the IWC's own Scientific Committee.

The Scientific Committee's antipathy (or, perhaps, in some cases, apathy) regarding the moratorium was particularly worth noting in view of the radical changes in the committee's composition. Antiwhaling delegations had placed or substituted scientists of their choice, many of whom had quite dubious qualifications. Indeed, what had been a small gathering of some 20 scientists had, by 1989, been turned into an almost unmanageable caucus of over 100 participants.

The 1982 moratorium resolution, premised on alleged concerns of scientific insufficiency and inadequacy, mandated the commission, through two rider resolutions, to undertake and complete a comprehensive assessment of major whale resources by 1990, and to develop a new resource management mechanism to ensure the safety of these resources.

With these riders, the "victory" of the antiwhaling nations was bound to be short-lived. The completion of these tasks, particularly the completion of the Revised Management Procedure (RMP) in 1991, put an end to the perennial controversy over the adequacy and reliability of data and analyses.

For the RMP, Japanese and other scientists put forward five proposals, all of which proved equally effective. However, it was ironic that the Scientific Committee decided to recommend to the commission for formal adoption the one developed by Justin Cooke, a British scientist known to be closely linked to Greenpeace. It chose Cooke's proposal for its relative simplicity in application.

The RMP's comprehensive stock analysis also generally confirmed the Scientific Committee's earlier conclusions, establishing, inter alia, that the best population estimate of minke whales between the ice pack edge and 60 degrees south was 760,000. (There are also a large number of minke whales outside this area in the southern oceans.)

The completion of the RMP and the comprehensive assessment came as a shuddering shock to the ultra-antiwhaling nations. Among them, New Zealand was the one which, two months later, rushed to Geneva to the third session of the Preparatory Committee of the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) to propose for the UNCED agenda a resolution for a new 10-year moratorium.

The document - by IWC commissioner Ian Stewart - was distributed at PrepComm. It described the reasons for the proposal in a shamelessly candid way, warning that "... the RMP might well be adopted at IWC's next meeting in June 1992 ... (This would) unlock the door to the resumption of whaling ... [I]t was not that a majority of IWC members were necessarily in favor of resumption, [but that] they were being driven by the IWC Convention itself," which would allow whaling under satisfactory stock conditions. The proposal concluded that therefore the resolution at UNCED for a 10-year moratorium was the only way to prevent this resumption.

In a nutshell, it confessed callously that after more than 20 years of fuss over science, they intended to renege on their 1982 commitments, and that all their arguments had been nothing more than expedient devices for pursuing their hidden agenda.

New Zealand failed. France was next to move. It proposed for the 1992 meeting consideration of the establishment of a sanctuary 40 degrees south in the southern oceans. Although the proposal was deceptively dubbed the Antarctic Sanctuary, it covered far too extensive an area to justify such terminology - vast areas equivalent in the Northern Hemisphere north to a line connecting roughly Aomori, Lisbon and Washington, D.C.

In failing to explain why the RMP could not be applied in this area, the proposal was nothing more than "a desperate attempt by animal rights groups to prevent the use of minke whales in the southern oceans." [Dr. Douglas Butterworth, associate professor, University of Cape Town, "Science and Sentimentalism," June 18, 1992, Nature.]

Nonetheless, the commission did adopt this proposal at its 1994 meeting, amending it to exclude the exclusive economic zones of the affected coastal states from the sanctuary - an attempt to override the objections of Latin American countries. In the adoption process, antiwhaling delegations turned a deaf ear to both of the Japanese proposals: one that the French proposal be referred to the Scientific Committee for detailed computer simulation; the other that the sanctuary exclude from its application minke whales - the smallest and most prolific species, and the one which, through exhaustive study, the Scientific Committee had established was the most robust.

The absurdity of the French proposal is beyond doubt. It alleged that the annual harvesting of 2,000 - 3,000 minke whales from a stock in excess of 760,000, by a process the RMP would detail, might well retard the recovery of other whale species and interfere with the ecosystem.

Actually, a few thousand harvested is, in mathematical and biological terms, equal to zero as regards the overall minke population and the ecosystem of which it is a part. In addition, this minimal harvesting would provide invaluable indicators to monitor overall changes in both the minke population and the ecosystem.

Even the French delegate himself, when confronted with these logical points at the 1993 IWC meeting, admitted in a plenary session that the French proposal was more political than scientific.

With all of this, it was inevitable that the government of Japan would lodge a formal objection to the sanctuary resolution. Japan did so in September.