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A summary of the key issues and decisions at IWC 64


With all the smoke from 64th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) now settling and most delegates safely home, we thought that it might be useful to review the main outputs of the meeting and consider that they might mean. Inevitably, public attention is drawn to the big dramatic debates about whaling but, to some extent, these draw attention away from many other important matters. These include much of the work that goes on in the Scientific Committee ahead of the Commission meeting such as the generation of many important recommendations including those directed at the conservation of the so called ‘small cetacean’ species. (These are the cetaceans not included on the IWC’s schedule of species that the pro-whaling countries claim limits the focus of the IWC.)

So, here we attempt to summarise all the conclusions and key issues from IWC 64 with some commentary. As usual we welcome comments, suggestions for additions and any corrections. Please note that for the first time in four years the IWC actually held votes on several matters and that we see this voting process as part of the healthy and democratic functioning of this body.

A. Outputs from the IWC 64 Commission Meeting

1. Arrangements for future meetings

The Commission and its various committees will now only meet every other year instead of annually. The exception to this will be that the Scientific Committee will continue to meet each year and South Korea has invited it to meet there in 2013.

Moving to a biannual meeting cycle for the Commission will obviously be a financial saving for countries. The dues that they pay to the IWC to be members will remain the same but costs of sending delegates across the world very year for one or two weeks of meetings will be much reduced. In theory the Commission has oversight on what the Scientific Committee (SC) does and whether this new time-table will give the SC even more autonomy remains to be seen.

2. The establishment of the Bureau

The Commission established a Bureau to advise the Chair of the Commission and the Secretariat ‘especially at times when the Commission is not in session’.

Whilst the relevant new rules of procedure for this body stipulate that it is ‘only to assist with process management’ and is not a ‘decision-making forum’, it will obviously be highly influential.

3. The Appointment of new IWC Officers

The USA, Panama, Ghana and Japan will form the first IWC Bureau and the Chair and Vice Chair will also be part of this group along with the Commissioner from the country that will host the next meeting (although no country has offered to host IWC 65 yet).

Also elected this year were a new Chair and Vice Chair for the Commission: Jeannine Compton-Antoine (from St Lucia) and Frederic Chemay (from Belgium) respectively. They replaced Bruno Mainini (of Switzerland) who did an excellent job as the interim Chair for IWC 64.

4. Strengthening IWC’s support for conservation

A seemingly small but actually rather important administrative matter was the approval of work championed by the UK in a submission about financing which contained a series of 11 recommendations to ‘support the shared goal of rebuilding and maintaining healthy whale populations and inject budget discipline to ensure rigorous financial practices in how the IWC conducts its business’. In effect, the recommendations help move the Commission towards establishing a dedicated conservation fund.

5. Withdrawal of the ‘Monaco Resolution’ calling on the UN to address whaling issues

After considerable discussion and considerable revision to the original draft, the monegasque commissioner chose, instead of going to a vote, to withdraw his resolution on ‘Highly migratory cetaceans in the high seas’.

The operative part of this reads: “NOW therefore the Commission: 7. Calls the attention of the international community to the circumstance that significant unregulated catches of highly migratory species of cetaceans continue to take place; 8. Invites Contracting Parties to consider this issue in collaboration with the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA}, with a view to contributing to the conservation efforts of the IWC.”

If the resolution had of been passed it would essentially have called on the UNGA to help with the unregulated catches affecting all cetaceans. The fact that the resolution was not voted on (presumably because its supporters judged that it might not be passed) does not end this initiative and, in fact, Monaco announced that he would be progressing interessional work on this, including via an informal (non IWC) working group.

6. Withdrawal of ‘Small Type Coastal Whaling’ (STCW) proposal

After Japan’s now customary presentation about the alleged deprivation experienced by their inshore whalers since the moratorium on commercial whaling came into play in 1986, including observations about how comparable they see this situation to the aboriginal quotas awarded to the US and other countries, Japan did not put its request for STCW to a vote.

Worryingly, Korea used very similar if not stronger rhetoric about the ‘plight’ of its coastal whalers and Korea’s opening statement to the IWC indicates that it means to start scientific whaling further to a review of a proposal to the SC to be made next year.

7. Endorsement of a wide range of further work on whale welfare

The Commission endorsed significant list of recommendations about whale welfare. This extended to work on disentanglement of whales, including the following approach:

(1) establish a dynamic entanglement response section on the IWC Website;

(2) consider establishing an international entanglement database;

(3) facilitate data exchange;

(4) promote establishment of national entanglement response networks;

(5) provide advice to member governments;

(6) develop a proposal for an international workshop on entanglement prevention; and

(7) continue to promote an IWC-managed fund for the entanglement response.

Two workshops on disentanglement were also endorsed: one in the French West Indies (e.g. Martinique, Guadeloupe) and the other probably in Mexico.

Funding for a dedicated ship-strikes coordinator was also advocated and a strategic plan for ship-strikes work will also now be developed.

More generally with respect to welfare, the Commission agreed to an ad-hoc intersessional working group to:

(1) review its Terms of Reference and existing Action Plan to see if they need updating or revision and make recommendations accordingly; and

(2) identify and agree upon important issues or themes to progress the promotion of good animal welfare and agree a timetable of regular future technical workshops on these issues, that would report back to the relevant working groups, recognising the success of previous IWC workshops on specific issues incorporating invited external experts.

Also agreed was the development of plans for an expert workshop on the euthanasia of large whales (both stranded animals and those entangled whales for which euthanasia appears to be the only option).

8. Key Conservation Issues Progressed

This relates to those issues reviewed by the Conservation Committee and then endorsed by the full Commission).

A five-year strategic plan for whale watching was adopted.

Progress on the three existing Conservation Management Plans (CMPs) was noted (the Arabian Sea humpback whales, Southern right whales and Western north pacific gray whales). New CMPs for the Southwest Atlantic Southern right whale and for the Southeast Pacific right whale were also agreed.

Marine Debris: A proposal for a workshop to consider the interactions between cetaceans and marine debris made by the Scientific Committee was well received in the Conservation Committee where it was decided that this could be a joint initiative between the two committees. This workshop was also endorsed by the Commission. It has some funding from the Commission and also significant financial support from OceanCare, The Environmental Investigation Agency and WSPA.

9. Requests for quotas

Four requests were made for the renewal, or expansion, of ‘aboriginal quotas’. The requests from the USA for their Inuit people, from Russia for the Chukotka people and from St Vincent and the Grenadines were ‘bundled’ together and therefore voted on jointly. Much concern was expressed about this ‘bundling’, which prevented proposal being judged on their own merits, and also the commercialised nature of St V&G hunt and its poor welfare implications. Nonetheless, the quotas were approved (48 votes for; 10 against; 2 abstentions and 1 not participating).

The request from Denmark on the behalf of Greenland for an expansion of take in a hunt which has been shown to have become highly commercialised in investigations and reports made by WDCS and AWI was refused (25 votes for; 34 against; 2 abstentions).


B. Key Recommendations and the Work of the Scientific Committee (SC)

The SC report was probably the longest ever produced and richly decorated with many recommendations. Here we will focus on those recommendations that are focused on actions outside of the SC itself. From the perspective of the Commission agenda this year the main topics discussed in the SC were arguably:

a. The ongoing poverty of the data provided by Greenland to the SC concerning its hunts, although the SC agreed that the proposed removals were likely to be sustainable;

b. That an abundance estimate for Antarctic minke whales was agreed but the differences between the last two surveys still indicate a possible significant decline; and

c. A slew of concerns about small cetacean species including the ongoing hunts of orcas by Greenland and the situation in the Solomon Islands where bottlenose dolphins are taken for the captivity industry.

1. Marine Renewable Energy Developments (MREDs)

The Scientific Committee began with a pre-meeting workshop on Marine Renewable Energy Developments, the report of which (SC/64/Rep6), including its many recommendations, was endorsed by the SC and the Commission.

The recommendations can be broadly defined as covering the following:

1. Strategy to minimise risk

2. Broad management (including the need for better cooperation in strategic planning)

3. ‘Fundamental’ research, including into population structure, status, distribution and procedures for assessing impacts

4. Evaluation of threats

5. Monitoring

6. Data sharing and the future role of the IWC SC in the consideration of MREDs

The SC also agreed that there is an urgent need to develop or improve effective noise mitigation measures or quieter foundation installation methods.

2. Western North Pacific Gray Whales

Western North Pacific gray whales (estimated at 130 animals in their breeding ground) remain critically endangered: the SC recommended that appropriate monitoring and mitigation plans be implemented for oil and gas activities. One Western gray whale tagged in Russian waters swam to Mexico (Eastern gray whale habitat). Therefore some mixing between Western and Eastern Pacific gray whale populations may occur.

3. ‘Scientific Whaling’

There were 226 Antarctic minke whales and one fin whale taken last year in Japan’s scientific hunt in Antarctica. 49 common minkes, 95 sei whales, 50 Bryde’s and one sperm whale were killed in Japan’s North Pacific scientific hunt.

In the report of the SC’s discussion of Scientific Whaling are two distinctly different statements from two groups of scientists (labelled as annexes P1 and P2):

P1 from some members states that some scientific committee members ‘wish to reiterate the view that the special permit programs conducted by the Government of Japan… and the recent program conducted by the Government of Iceland have not provided results relevant to the IWC and are unnecessary for the conservation and management of whales’. It also complains about how this matter disrupts the work of the committee on ‘genuinely scientific issues’, that the presentation of results has not always been timely and that these programs are ‘open-ended’.

In P2 some other members (and we can expect that these are the scientists appointed by the Government of Japan and perhaps some others – no names are given) note that they ‘disagree’ with P1 and state that the past Committee review reports include numerous statements that acknowledge the contribution of special permit programs to marine science and the conservation and management of whales.

There was debate in the Commission about whether or not the funding apportioned to support the review of Iceland’s scientific whaling could be better spent elsewhere. In the end the funding was left in place but a strong message was sent to those that choose to award themselves quotas for whaling that they should expect to bear the full costs of such activities in the future.

4. Small Cetacean Recommendations

4.1 Ongoing Beaked Whale Review: The focus this year was a review of the status of ziphiid whales in the North Pacific and Northern Indian Ocean (ten species of beaked whales). This included the following points: – Recommendations that improved understanding of population structure, distribution, abundance estimates and movement of the stocks off Japan are required for Baird’s beaked whale, particularly as long as hunting continues there; and – That a photo-ID study of Baird’s beaked whales conducted from the Commander Islands in the western Bering Sea provided the first evidence of a social structure for this species (‘a fission-fusion society’) and was encouraged to continue. (This study was part funded by the Critical Habitat/ Marine Protected Areas Programme of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society through the Russian Cetacean Habitat Project).

 Important common issues coming from this review and that made of beaked whales in the North Atlantic last year related to marine noise (which beaked whales are especially vulnerable to) and marine debris (which many animals were found to have ingested). The Committee recommended that pathology be improved to look for noise-related lesions and also it strongly recommended that military exercises and seismic surveys should avoid areas of important habitat for beaked whales; that further effort should be made to mitigate their impacts; and that further effort should be made to identify such areas.

With respect to marine debris, many of the species reviewed were noted as ingesting debris and the Committee recommended that “this issue is further investigated via the collection, collation and analyses of relevant data from around the world concerning ingestion rates, debris types and associated pathology, and that standardised protocols are developed for pathology”. It also stated that consideration should be given in investigating marine debris accumulation and associated processes in areas of important habitat for small cetaceans. For a recently published review about marine debris click HERE.

4.2 Takes of Small Cetaceans: Particular and continued concern was expressed by the SC about the lack of assessment of the stock(s) of killer whales which are exploited in Greenland.

The SC also expressed particular concern about the low abundance of Maui’s dolphins in New Zealand and concluded that additional measures may be required to ensure recovery of the species. It encouraged the immediate implementation of the extension of the existing protected area to help reduce bycatch rates.

4.3 Marine Bushmeat

This relates to ‘poorly documented hunts of small cetaceans for food, bait or cash’ and. Ritter is leading intersessional work on this in preparation for a workshop.

5. Stock Structures and quota calculations

There is much ongoing work in the SC focused on assessments of populations and the development and testing of the Revised Management Procedure (RMP), which provides a framework under which commercial captures would be calculated if the moratorium is lifted.

Whilst this remains hypothetical, the progress of investigations into various populations until they are deemed well enough characterised for application of the RMP and the associated running of models that test their robustness to whaling catches, clearly have implications for the whaling debate. Various populations are in various stages of assessment and highly technical debates continue about stock-structures and the application of the RMP. Important issues related to this include an ongoing debate about whether it is appropriate to change certain factors within the RMP that would allow for a higher catch (these efforts did not progress significantly at this meeting) and the ongoing debate about the stock structures of minke whales in the North Pacific which would affect any authorised catches there.



A rare view of the IWC Scientific Committee in action.



About George Berry

George is a member of WDC's Communications team and website coordinator.