The past shall remain in the past
Hello Again from Brazil!
This weekend we took a brief break from NGO and US delegation meetings to get out see some of the beautiful country here in Southern Brazil, as well as a few unique opportunities to witness some of the cetaceans that keep us inspired and pushing for the conservation of whales and their home. More on that at the end, but right now let’s talk about the what we are expecting at the IWC 67 plenary, scheduled to begin in just a few moments.
This year is going to be intense, many NGO representatives agree it is gearing up to be a landmark meeting.
Japan is not messing around this year, they came well prepared with many resources, and they came to change the whole game.
This year they have brought a massive delegation, 66 total members! Most nations have 1-2 people in their delegation, the US usually as a handful. They have 6 members of Japan’s National Diet (their legislative branch of national government), as well as 2 vice ministers are here as observers. Along with them is an entourage of other government officials, as well as 65-70+ members of the Japanese press! With this extensive effort for domestic attention, it is clear that Japan is planning to make waves, it is too early to tell how big these waves will be. The atmosphere is electric with energy as tensions are rising. Just yesterday, members of the Japanese delegation were met by local protests at the Florianopolis airport and were escorted out by riot police.
There is also the issue of Japan’s repeated statements that they might leave the IWC if commercially whaling is not reinstated, this threat has grown rather stale as they have been said this time and time again. That being said, Japan’s high-profile entourage is a new development for them, and signals something big and potentially looming on the horizon. Perhaps they are planning another spectacle like their 2011 walkout, where Japan and 20 of their allies broke quorum by leaving the plenary before a vote could be called on a South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. The South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary, by the way, is up for a vote again this year.
Another spectacle like this is far more likely than Japan actually following through on their threats to withdraw from the International Whaling Commission entirely. Organizations like the IWC do not exist on their own but are part of a complex web of relationships between countries that are woven between various diplomatic organizations. Japan would certainly face consequences in other international relationships if they were viewed as unreliable and unstable. This can impact their reliance upon fisheries and many other areas.
In addition to all of this, we are looking at a huge number of proposed resolutions this year, so expect the first day to be a more or less a formal announcement of most of these to the plenary, along with clarifications of what each is intending to do. We will keep you updated on each of these as this unfolds, but expect big moves on Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) issues, pushes for the IWC to reorganize aspects of its functioning in order to become financially solvent again, conservation issues such as sound pollution, ghost gear, and marine debris, and much more.
During the past week here in Florianopolis, we have heard so many stories that are equally unsettling as they are fascinating with regards to the history and politics of the IWC. We had the pleasure of joining a West African delegate during our touring, the delegate filled us in on what they describe as ‘reality tv like drama’ seen in these meetings, and told us about how they have tried to encourage their neighboring countries to resist being bribed and bought for votes by Japan. Our excursion around Santa Catarina state in Southern Brazil began with a stop at a lighthouse at Santa Marta Cape, which is the world’s largest structure built with cement containing whale oil! The imposing bone white structure is composed of sand, shells and whale bones ground to provide body to the concrete mixture.
From there we drove to Laguna to witness fishermen working cooperatively with local bottlenose dolphins! These artisanal fisherman wade into the water at the lagoon mouth with nets. When bottlenose dolphins appear, their feeding would dives millet towards the fishermen, who would then cast their nets and haul in their bounty. Witnessing this human-animal cooperation firsthand embodies what we are striving for, working with our fellow animals on this planet and sharing natural resources rather than exploiting them out of existence.
Next stop was the last standing whaling station in Southern Brazil, which was in operation all the way until 1973 and has since been restored and converted into a museum by the local conservation group Projeto Baleia Jubarte. From here we moved on to Ribanceira Beach where we climbed sand dunes and watched Southern Right Whales from shore. It was here, seated in powder soft white sand admiring mothers as they roll and lift their pectoral fins above the surface while their calves clumsily breach, that we are starkly reminded of why the past belongs in the past. Whaling is an important legacy in human industry, whale bodies have literally and figuratively built our structures and society, and we are returning the favor by possibly exterminating their societies. We owe our progress and our success to them and we owe them protection.
by Sabena Siddiqui
The mission of the American Cetacean Society is to protect whales, dolphins, porpoises, and their habitats through public education, research grants, and conservation actions.