The main agenda item on the opening day at this year’s IWC meeting in Panama has already caused controversy, as a Latin American-led proposal to declare the South Atlantic a whale sanctuary has been rejected after the pro-whaling nations and their allies blocked its progress.
The South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary would promote conservation efforts aimed at protecting the 52 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises in the region against hazards such as climate change and pollution, and encourage non-lethal economic activities such as whale watching.
However, despite votes in favour out-weighing those against the creation of a Sanctuary (38 for, 21 against), the ¾ majority needed to bring about its creation was not achieved.
The idea of a sanctuary in the South Atlantic is not a new one. It has been proposed at previous IWC meetings and was originally submitted by Brazil and Argentina in 2001. But, this is the first successful vote on any proposal for four years.
Vanesa Tossenberger from the WDCS Latin American office said: “Even if the Sanctuary was not established this time around, the vast majority of countries present were in favour, and this was also the first vote on the proposal for four years- which is, in itself, a positive development, especially considering that a vote on the Sanctuary at the IWC meeting in 2011 resulted in a walk out by the pro whaling nations”.
Despite a range of excuses given by the pro-whaling nations against a sanctuary being established in the region, WDCS points out those whales in this area are still suffering from the extensive commercial hunt in the past and have not recovered yet. Also, as whales are highly migratory species, a comprehensive and global approach is necessary to protect them. Furthermore, whale watching and eco-tourism is a huge benefit to coastal States concerned.
WDCS is saddened by the outcome of this vote and that the pro whaling countries were able to block a highly important conservation measure, but we will keep on fighting.
Countries voting against a sanctuary – Tanzania, Togo, Tuvalu, Antigua and Barbuda, Benin, Nauru, Cambodia, China, Ghana, Grenada, Iceland, Japan, Kiribati, Korea, Laos, Mongolia, Norway, Palau, Russian Federation, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia