Skip to content


Make a donation to WDC before April 25th and it will be doubled.
Help us create a Norway for whales and stop whaling.

Emma Steel watching from land in snowy

Beyond the frost: Shorewatch volunteers rise to our three-year winter watching challenge

Emma Steel Emma is WDC's Shorewatch coordinator. She works with volunteers to learn more about...
El Salvador whale watching workshop

Empowering communities through responsible whale watching

Miguel Iñíguez Miguel is WDC's research fellow based in Argentina. Seeing whales and dolphins in...
Busy Japanese city

WDC in Japan – Part 6: Lessons learnt

Katrin Matthes Katrin is WDC's communications and campaigns officer for policy & communication in Germany...
Help Michelin change the course

We’re working with Michelin to take whales off the menu

Julia Pix Julia Pix is WDC's head of engagement. She delivers our public campaigns and...

Day Two of IWC 2016

This is meant as a brief update on progress and hurdles this morning at IWC66 in Slovenia. We shall update when we get another gap between sessions.

IWC66/09 South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary

The day started badly for the whales when the Schedule Amendment that would have established the South Atlantic Sanctuary (#SAWS) was defeated with 38 votes for, 24 votes against and 2 abstentions. A number of countries had either not been present or had failed to pay their dues (or both), so were not allowed to vote.

The voting record should be examined carefully as those countries that voted against the Sanctuary are both expected and some unusual. Why was the normally conservation-minded Kenya voting with the whalers? What incentive did the Commissioner for Kenya have for taking such a step? Was it a direct instruction from the Kenyan Government? We shall have to see.

We were pleased to see St Vincent actually abstain, maybe in sympathy with its Southern hemisphere neighbours.

The vote was a defeat this time, but I don’t think we have seen the last of the Sanctuary vote as Brazil has offered to host the next IWC meeting in 2018.

In a maybe surprising move, Kenya offered to host the next Scientific Committee meeting.

The Resolution on Food Security submitted by Japan’s ‘friends’ resulted in some strong interventions. The usual suspects such as Antigua and Barbuda accused the rest of the world of insensitivity in not signing up to the resolution post haste, whilst some conservation countries questioned why the resolution was effectively dealing with commercial whaling, and not just ASW. They also insisted on including a reference to the moratorium.

Resolution on Enhancing the Effectiveness of the IWC was moved off into a sub-committee to continue drafting.

Japan’s allies were front and centre with their Resolution on Creation of a Fund to Strengthen the Capacity of Governments of Limited Means to Participate in the Work of the IWC, which basically, as some cynics would say, relieves Japan of having to pay for too many countries to attend.

There is actually quite a bit of sympathy for this resolution; not to help Japan, but as a form of transparency in really helping developing countries to participate, but the IWC Convention actually requires the Member States to pay their own dues directly, so there is some drafting to be done if it’s to go ahead. The system also has to be transparent, so nations are watching this one carefully.

The Resolution on Whales and Ecosystem Services was discussed, with the IWC aligning as expected, but we were surprised to see the USA asking for the subject to be deflected into the IWC Scientific Committee “long grass” for a report-back. The subject remains open and we shall be returning to it. You can read a WDC briefing on the subject here.

The Resolution on the Minamata Convention was discussed with the whaling countries arguing that it was not within the competence of the IWC to discuss human health. An intervention by the usual Taiji roadshow raised this IWC-watcher’s eyebrows when the Japanese alternate Commissioner, in discussing ‘accusations’ in the film ‘The Cove’, seemed to suggest that, whilst the movie said that his Fisheries colleague had high levels of mercury poisoning, that he was ‘healthy but more likely to be suffering from alcohol poisoning’.  He seemed to find it very funny, but I am not sure that calling your colleague an alcoholic is the height of diplomacy.

To me, it seems that Japan has been running the meeting to-date, utilising its ‘supporters’ to press forward with some aggressive initiatives, whilst it has “directed the traffic” to defeat the SAWS proposal. Iceland and Norway have been happy to sit on the sidelines and watch the show, with Iceland being the most assertive in supporting anything that advances whaling and speaking against anything that smacks of conservation. 

The meeting closed for lunch to resume at 14:00.

The afternoon session has started with the US introducing a discussion on protecting the vaquita calling for an end to gillnetting in the upper gulf and is supported by the Chair of the IWC Scientific Committee. 

Mexico is called upon to speak and is supported by the European Union.

The EU argues that the urgency of the vaquita’s deteriorating situation means that the IWC should, exceptionally, allow this resolution to come forward without being submitted 60 days before the meeting.

Japan says it shares the concern, “having seen the last Yangtze River dolphin pass away” and whilst they do not agree with competency, they hope that a consensus document can be agreed.

Austria speaks passionately for the resolution, as does Argentina. Iceland opposes the competency of the IWC to discuss small cetaceans but notes that ‘it will always support initiatives when stocks are depleted’ (just to put a whaling spin on it). 

St Vincent calls for the issue as a ‘pick and mix’ for the IWC and should not be discussed.

The Latin American Governments are all speaking in support of Mexico and the USA, whilst Russia says that it will not vote on the resolution.

And just so we know who we are talking about. This is the diminutive Vaquita of which there are less than 100 individuals left and maybe a lot less – IUCN estimates maybe less than 60.

IUCN notes that the imminent extinction of the vaquita is ‘our responsibility’. Great to see EIA speaking on behalf of 56 other NGOs (including WDC) that have called for urgent action on the vaquita.

The USA welcomes Japanese intervention and willingness to cooperate and so suggests taking it off the table to see if it can be redrafted during the meeting, to which the Chairman agrees, welcoming the overall optimism towards a solution.

Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling up next

The Chairman notes that the major ASW quotas will be up for discussion at the next IWC meeting in Brazil and that he would like to avoid previous issues encountered.

The meeting is handed over to the ASW Working Group Vice Chair, Joji of Japan. The Japanese vice chair then reported on the ASW working group, which had met in the previous week in Slovenia.

He noted that working group had received approaches from hunters to be included in future discussions and would ask the IWC to consider this again. 

He noted that the issue of the required needs statements is of concern of those involved in hunts. The development of standardised needs statement was under much discussion and the chairman noted that the Government of Denmark extended an invitation to a workshop in 2015 in Greenland, which went ahead.

IWC Expert Workshop: In referring to the workshop in Greenland, the chairman from Japan is very diplomatic but argues that indigenous rights should effectively trump IWC’s rights to regulate ASW.

Furthermore, he argues for new needs statement to be replaced by IWC endorsing the ASW country putting forward its quota demand, thus limiting the competence of the IWC to rubberstamp the demands of the whalers.

The meeting then handed over a considerable amount of time to an Invited expert on indigenous issues, Dr Dorough, who had been invited by the IWC Bureau to speak to the Convention. She focuses on her interpretation of human rights laws and how these affect indigenous peoples. She argues that international law sets out guidance on how governments should act in promoting and protecting human rights. She argues that there is a series of interrelated rights. She stresses International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1996 arguing that people cannot be denied their rights. She noted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) and makes some interesting assertions that all governments have had an input, therefore – I am guessing -implying that there should be no criticisms of her assertions?

She again stresses ‘rights to self-determination’ and notes “rights of peoples to be secure in their own means of subsistence”. She highlights Article 42, which urges bodies (such as IWC) to implement clauses relating to traditional subsistence activities, economies, livelihoods, food security and nutrition. I would suggest you read/listen to the presentation on the IWC YouTube broadcast as it’s quite long.

Her overall message is that the IWC needs to adopt implementation measures for ASW hunters based on ‘good practice’ by respecting the various Declarations and UN statements.  

She makes several observations, noting that the USA and Australia have expressed the opinion that the IWC should keep pace with changes in the outside world, but that this should also apply to including indigenous peoples.

In discussing the interaction between UN agencies and IWC, she notes issues of food security being discussed by IWC and further notes that the ASW subcommittee decisions can affect the rights of peoples. If so then, in her opinion, the IWC has to address international developments around  ‘Rights’. ‘The conservation committee and scientific committee benefit from other external bodies so why shouldn’t the Aboriginal Sub-committee of the IWC?’

Her tone now becomes more ‘threatening’  – to this listener anyway –  in her statement that “If you prevent the Aboriginal subsistence committee  [from doing] the same, you are walking on thin ice and approaching discrimination”.

Japan asks a procedural question, noting that the workshop has made a series of recommendations and wants to know how to handle them.

The Chair says they will be used for initiating discussions this afternoon.

The meeting breaks for coffee at 15:33 local time

Coming to order for the last session of the day, the vice chair of the Aboriginal Subsistence Working Group reads out the recommendations of the Committee including changing the name of the Needs Statement to ‘Description of the Hunt’. WDC and others have some major concerns about such a move

First to speak is NAMMCO, supporting the workshop’s outputs, and notes that NAMMCO “does not distinguish between ASW and commercial whaling, but only looks at the sustainability of any hunts”.

NAMMCO states that the needs statements are an affront to indigenous rights, and the changing aspect of indigenous communities should be able to develop (commercially sic).

The Nederlands on behalf of EU affirms that the EU is committed to the rights of ASW communities, and reiterates the proper management of ASW is the role of the IWC. The EU welcomes the workshop and says that the EU is ready to adopt the working group report as a record of the meeting, and will consider the recommendations. However, the EU needs more time to consider the changes of determination of needs statement and feels it’s premature to adopt new terminology at this meeting.

In considering the timelines suggestion the EU welcome this detailed approach, but on the understanding that the governments will submit ongoing reports to the IWC. Furthermore, the EU encourages all contracting governments to greater transparency and early dialogue

Denmark welcomes the subcommittee report and asks for urgent action on issues “that affect our hunters”.

The speaker (who is Greenlandic) notes that “Greenland is a country of contrasts, some 4000 years back, but is also part of the modern world today”. “I would like to stress the sound management of living resources”. She then goes on to repeat a commercial whaling mantra that ”increasing marine mammals are competing with our fishermen”.

She states that Greenlandic government is placing more efforts into food security and urges continued momentum to close down unresolved issues.

She goes on to urge avoidance of the 2012 situation (when Denmark messed up the quota request) and threatens that “If no decision is taken on the 2018 ASW quota then the Greenland Government reserve the right to secure its own food security.” She concludes that she believes that “It is the responsibility of the Government to define the needs of its people”…and that “This meeting is my 25th meeting and I have experienced several attempts to restructure IWC into a sound management organisation”. Was that mock despair I hear in her voice?

Russian Federation speaks and welcomes the IWC workshop and the presence of whalers. Furthermore, Russia welcomes the expert presentation on indigenous rights and wants it put on the IWC website.

Argentina notes that it can’t support the report as a full because it went beyond the IWC mandate, and has legal and financial implications. For the recommendations in page 8 Argentina has suggested a change following what Argentina has already stated. Need further work, chronogram in table 2 is OK but the annotations should be clarified. 

Switzerland says it support the recommendations of changing the needs statement.

The USA would like to associate with Greenland, Switzerland and Russia. There are some recommendations that need to be considered by this body now, as it will impact quota in 2018. The USA states it supports timeline of the expert working group.

 The USA argues that previous needs statements should be made available and that the IWC secretariat can develop the template for countries to fill in.

Notes voluntary fund and that the communities will need support to comply with IWC requirements. Goes on to say that “We are of course willing to discuss these issue in more detail, but want to see some action”.

Mexico notes that as the country with the highest quantity of people speaking indigenous languages, Mexico understands contribution from aboriginal peoples (to lots of things). Mexico doesn’t oppose to ASW, but we support Presentation of Dr Dorough: one is right of indigenous peoples and another thing is that for being indigenous we can’t overexploit resources above the rest of the people

St Vincent: Associates with the USA, and Russia and suggests peoples don’t have to justify what they eat

Dominican Republic is not opposed to having on the IWC  website Dr Dorough’s presentation, as long as they also put pictures and videos of the hunts performed. In the website, we don’t see any blood.

Norway welcomes the recognition of “righteousness of whaling and that there is only one type of whaling and that’s the sustainable whaling”. [I note that this is one of the rare interventions by Norway and was said with a smile]

Chile associates itself with Argentina, Mexico, and DR. Furthermore it notes that it’s premature adopting the report. Chile requested clarifications and didn’t get them, especially why they are asking for the 7th year quota. This convention has no competency on some issues.

Alaskan Eskimo Whaling Commission: Welcomes working group and welcomes the work of protecting of whales from climate change, ship strikes and other threats, but believes balance is critical. When IWC came into being, human rights was a new thing and now it needs to adapt quickly.

IWMC welcomes Dr Dorough’s presentation and notes that human rights mean that peoples can develop and it’s not the right of the IWC to intervene

AWI speaks saying that, yes, international law has to be applied as customary international law, but asks what does this mean for the IWC? The IWC can affect these rights by requiring quantitative and reasonable data to allow it to meet its management mandate. The limiting of an ASW quota is a reasonable and objective justification. The IWC can improve and needs statements can be improved.

Chair closes the discussion noting that there is broad agreement for continuation of work, but not complete agreement on recommendations; therefore, we need to be clear on what is accepted.

Drafting group could be put together but suggests that small group is convened to see if more consensuses can be achieved. Suggests that Argentina, USA, Greenland and one or two others.

Agenda item 7.2 ASW Management Procedure (AWMP)

The chair reported back on progress on the development of the ASW management procedure, including work on SLA for common Minke whale off Greenland. He states that this is a complex issue as minke whale is “target of commercial whaling under RMP and under SLA for ASW”

[Editors note: Just to note that the Aboriginal Sub-Committee vice chair fails to mention that the RMP should not be being used by Norway as the IWC has not authorised its use.]

Agenda item 7. 3 Aboriginal Whaling Scheme (AWS)

The vice chair notes that the AWS will be generic and apply to all ASW hunts and is important to ensure safe hunting. He notes that original suggestion was made in 2003, but not adopted then. Notes the advice available if scientific advice on an abundance estimate is not available after ten years. This has been tested for bowhead and now being tested for other SLAs, including carry-overs.

Chair asks if the meeting can endorse this part of the report – Yes 

Agenda item 7.4 Annual reviews of aboriginal subsistence quotas 

Bering-Chukchi- Beaufort Seas Stock of bowhead whales committee endorsed the recommendation that quota does not impact the population.

North pacific Eastern stock of Gray Whales

Mainly hunted by Russian hunters. Discussed issue of ‘stinky’ or inedible whales. A small working group has placed the report on the website as IWC66/21. The small group suggests that the Sci. Comm. does more work on this. 

Nederlands notes that it understands incident of stinky whales has decreased and hunters now better at avoiding, so occurrence of stinky whales at 3% now (with 3-4 whales annually). The Nederlands welcomes views of the Sci. Comm., on how this work can go forward.

Russian Federation notes that the current catch limits are not enough to meet needs of the peoples and previously was down to deficiencies in obtaining whaling equipment. This will be worse if Makah does hunt, and therefore the Russian Federation may increase its demands for more whales for 2019 onwards. 

The Russian Federation noted that actually stinky whales average 4-5 whales taken a year, and in 2008 it was 10 whales. ‘This was a problem and we do not know the reason for the stinky whales’ he says. The Russian Federation will not ask for increased quota for next two years, but the current quota should exclude the total landed and our landed quota may exceed current quota allocation.

In response to the Nederlands, the whalers say that stinky whales now account for 10% of whales approached. Some villages have lost their hunting experience and are now trained by experienced hunters. ‘Stinky whales are not eaten; not even by dogs’ he claims. The hunters also encounter stinky walrus and stinky birds, but sometimes the smell only becomes aware after cooking, therefore stinky landed whales cannot be counted against quota.


Candace Crespi of LegaSeas speaks on the issue of stinky whales and asks that Russian domestic attempts should be supported by IWC.  As the cause of stinky whales not identified, and commitment made to help Russia in the hunt, this should be extended to understanding cause and threat to whales. Candice noted that the Russian hunt is only ASW hunt that has a limit to whales as ‘taken’, and not just ‘struck’. If it remains as ‘taken’ as not ‘Struck’ in the future this could mean unlimited takes. She states, “We do not dismiss the food security of the Russian people but believe these issues should be addressed.”

Meeting endorses the report and moves on.

Common Minke off east and west Greenland was endorsed

West Greenland stock of fin whales was endorsed

West Greenland stock of Bowhead whales. The vice-chair noted that Canada had inputted and do not believe that take will harm the stock. The report was endorsed 

Humpback whales of west Greenland The vice-chair noted do not believe that take will harm the stock. The report was endorsed

North Atlantic humpback off St Vincent The vice-chair noted do not believe that take will harm the stock but Sci Comm was concerned on a lack of abundance estimates for this stock and requested the USA to help at next meeting.

The Dominican Republic and Costa Rica questioned data

The report was endorsed and closed

Agenda Item: Voluntary fund for ASW. Vice chair notes that the fund is now zero and would welcome more contributions.

IWC Chair asks if the meeting can accept report and recommendations.

Meeting closed for the day. 

Tomorrow opens with the stormy subject Small Type Coastal Whaling (STCW) at 09:00-hour local time