The IWC and Scientific Permits
A major area of discussion in recent years has been the issuing of permits by member states for the killing of whales for scientific purposes. The use of such permits is not new. The right to issue them is enshrined in Article VIII of the 1946 Convention. Whilst member nations must submit proposals for review, in accordance with the Convention, it is the member nation that ultimately decides whether or not to issue a permit, and this right overrides any other Commission regulations including the moratorium and sanctuaries. Article VIII also requires that the animals be utilised once the scientific data have been collected.
Prior to 1982, when it was agreed that a moratorium would come into effect in 1986, over 100 permits were issued by a number of governments including Canada, USA, USSR, South Africa and Japan.
Scientific Committee Review
Since the ‘moratorium’ came into effect after 1986, Japan, Norway and Iceland have issued scientific permits as part of their research programmes. In recent years, only Japan and Iceland have issued permits. Recent discussions have centred on accusations that such permits have been issued merely as a way around the moratorium decision; these have been countered by claims that the catches are essential to obtain information necessary for rational management and other important research needs. All proposed permits have to be submitted for review by the Scientific Committee following Guidelines issued by the Commission but the ultimate responsibility for their issuance lies with the member nation. The Scientific Committee’s review concentrates on the following issues:
1. whether the permit adequately specifies its aims, methodology and the samples to be taken;
2. whether the research is essential for rational management, the work of the Scientific Committee or other critically important research needs;
3. whether the methodology and sample size are likely to provide reliable answers to the questions being asked;
4. whether the questions can be answered using non-lethal research methods;
5. whether the catches will have an adverse effect on the stock;
6. whether there is the potential for scientists from other nations to join the research programme.
The Scientific Committee comprises around 200 scientists, some nominated by member governments and others invited especially by the Committee itself. The Committee inevitably includes the scientists who are proposing the permit and the usual way that the review is carried out is that the comments of the proposers and the rest of the Committee are identified. As one might expect in such a large group of scientists, the review of any permits rarely results in unanimity either in favour or against the scientific merit of the proposal. The published reports of the Scientific Committee reflect the agreements and disagreements of the review process, for both new and continuing permits.
Scientific Committee discussions
There are a number of general interpretational questions stemming from the Guidelines given by the Commission (e.g. What comprises ‘essential’ for management? What constitutes ‘reliable’? What counts as a ‘critical’ research need?) that apply to most research permit discussions. There is no consensus on the answers to these either within the Commission or the Scientific Committee. Closely linked to these questions is the discussion of lethal versus non-lethal research techniques. Although there has been a great increase in the types of information that can be obtained from non-lethal research methods such as biopsy sampling and photo-identification, at present there are certain data that can only be obtained (at least in the short-term) using lethal methods. These include, for example, the age of an animal (obtained from earplugs) and the reproductive status and history of females (obtained from ovaries). Such information is important inter alia in any consideration of biological parameters (e.g. mortality and reproductive rates) and interpretation of pollutant levels. The difficult question then becomes one of whether the answers one obtains using such data are ‘essential’, ‘reliable enough’ or ‘critical’? This calls for more than purely scientific judgement.
While the Commission cannot interfere with the right of a member nation to issue a permit, it can comment on the permit, after receiving the report of the Scientific Committee. In recent years, the Commission has passed a number of Resolutions asking governments to refrain from issuing specific permits. These discussions are usually contentious and the Resolutions passed by relatively small majorities (see below).
and specifically about Antarctica and the most recent Japanese permit:
Antarctic (2) – JARPA II
A new large-scale Antarctic programme (called JARPA II) commenced during the austral summer of 2005/06. The first two seasons were feasibility studies. The objectives for JARPA II differ from those for JARPA and are defined by Japan as:
1. monitoring of the Antarctic ecosystem;
2. modelling competition among whale species and developing future management objectives;
3. elucidation of temporal and spatial changes in stock structure;
4. improving the management procedure for Antarctic minke whale stocks.
JARPA II will focus on Antarctic minke, humpback and fin whales and possibly other species in the Antarctic ecosystem that are major predators of Antarctic krill. During the 2-year feasibility study a maximum of 850±10% Antarctic minke whales and ten fin whales were killed and sampled in each season. Annual sample sizes for the proposed full-scale research (lethal sampling) are 850 (with 10% allowance) Antarctic minke whales (Eastern Indian Ocean and Western South Pacific stocks), 50 humpback whales (D and E stocks) and 50 fin whales (Indian Ocean and the Western South Pacific stocks). Humpback whales were not taken during the feasibility study. The research methods for cetaceans for JARPA II are similar to those for JARPA. The programme also includes non-lethal research techniques to be used such as sighting surveys, biopsy sampling, acoustic surveys for prey species and the collection of oceanographic data.
At the 2007 Annual meeting here was considerable disagreement over the value of this research both within the Scientific Committee and the Commission. As in previous years, there was severe disagreement within the Committee regarding advice that should be provided on a number of issues, including: the relevance of the proposed research to management, appropriate sample sizes and applicability of alternate (non-lethal) research methods.
In 2005 a Resolution was passed (30 votes to 27 votes with 1 abstention) that strongly urged the Government of Japan to withdraw its JARPA II proposal or to revise it so that any information needed to meet the stated objectives of the proposal is obtained using non-lethal means. Japan withdrew a proposed resolution in favour of the research programmes.
In 2007 the Commission passed a Resolution asking Japan to refrain from issuing a permit for JARPA II by 40 votes in favour, 2 votes against and 1 abstention; 27 countries decided not to participate in the vote as they believed that the submission of the proposal was not conducive to building bridges within the Commission.
The 2-year feasibility study has now been completed and Japan has issued permits for 2007/08.
Obviously, the big hole in the permit process is that the country asking for the permit is also the country that acts on the permit. The whaling commission can discuss and recommend but that's it. It's clear from the above discussion, however couched in diplomacy the words are, that the majority of the commission members object to Japan's issuance of this large-scale research permit. It's clear that the results of the previous permit - the research gleaned from it (see the website for results) is sketchy and not all that helpful and it's questionable to many scientists whether killing so many whales was necessary to obtain the results.
It's helpful, too, to understand the history:
HISTORY AND PURPOSE
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling which was signed in Washington DC on 2nd December 1946 (Click HERE to view full text). The purpose of the Convention is to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.
The main duty of the IWC is to keep under review and revise as necessary the measures laid down in the Schedule to the Convention which govern the conduct of whaling throughout the world (Click HERE to view the full text). These measures, among other things, provide for the complete protection of certain species; designate specified areas as whale sanctuaries; set limits on the numbers and size of whales which may be taken; prescribe open and closed seasons and areas for whaling; and prohibit the capture of suckling calves and female whales accompanied by calves. The compilation of catch reports and other statistical and biological records is also required.
In addition, the Commission encourages, co-ordinates and funds whale research, publishes the results of scientific research and promotes studies into related matters such as the humaneness of the killing operations.
Finally, the objection procedure (for countries):
THE OBJECTION PROCEDURE (Convention Article 5 (3))
Any government can 'object' to any decision which it considers to seriously affect its national interest, provided it is done within 90 days of notification of the decision. Should this happen, further time is allowed for other governments to object. The government or governments that object are not then bound by that particular decision. This mechanism has been strongly criticised as rendering the Commission 'toothless', but without it the Convention would probably have never been signed. In addition, without such a right (common to many international agreements), a government would still have been able to withdraw from the Convention and thus not be bound by any of the regulations.
The IWC was created to "manage" whale "stocks". It's like the various fish and wildlife organizations in the U.S. that set hunting and fishing limits and issue licenses. It's a conservation organization in the same sense that Ducks Unlimited is. It is, unfortunately, the only international organization that exists that includes as its members whaling countries.
This information led me to wonder what about enforcement, what does the commission do to ensure that countries meet IWC requirements, limited though they are? The commission is still working on it, frankly. There is a long web page that spells out when they started working on a new management program and how it has progressed and what still needs to be done. Among the things needing to be done is an observation program to ensure that standards are being met.
And this, of course, leads me to ask what can I do to make this process better than it is? The commission is a delicate emulsion, conflicting forces trying to work together. Diplomacy is about all they have. Surely, though, when most countries object to the actions of a few there can be some action that works?
My thinking is that
1. The rules need to change to require that permits be approved by the commission.
2. An observation and enforcement procedure needs to be developed.
Not easy tasks but let's at least suggest them, demand that they work on them, as well as other thoughts we have:
The International Whaling Commission
The Red House,
135 Station Road,
Cambridgeshire CB24 9NP, UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 233 971
Fax: +44 (0) 1223 232 876
Next: I will offer a sample letter to the commission.