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This report is from the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

Their Darkest, Finest Hour

- With the resumption of commercial whale hunting imminent, two species are at a crossroads

Every year for the last five years, a small team of biologists has taken a flight to a major Japanese city. The faces and academic affiliations change from year to year, along with the organizations sponsoring the trip. But the mission does not. They do not announce their coming. They check into their hotel room, open their cases, and assemble the highly transportable, miraculously simple components of a DNA laboratory. Then they call their shoppers: Japanese nationals who duly go forth and purchase about 100 samples of whale meat.

They can't wait: In September 2000, Dan Goodman (left) and Makato Ito of Japan's Institute for Cetacean Research huddled with Norwegian politician Geir Wulff-Nilsen and Bjorn Hurgo Bendiksen, deputy chief of Norway's Small Whalers Union, to advance the campaign to permit export of whale products from Norway to Japan.

The meat -- kujira -- is available at dockside fish markets, department stores, restaurants, specialty shops. It is all labeled and sold as minke whale, the catch from Japan's "research" whale hunt -- available for purchase and consumption not so that anyone can make a profit, as the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture's press releases relentlessly insist, but just to provide the money (US$35 million a year) to fund more "research."

The biologists run DNA sampling tests on the "minke whale" purchases. The results never fail to turn up a cornucopia of strictly protected species, a tribute to the smuggler's craft, all randomly amalgamated and shaped into a shrink-wrapped package and mis-labeled for consumption: Sperm whale. Humpback whale. Blue whale. Sei whale. Beaked whale. Killer whale.

Every year, this news hits the wire services. A few headlines result. Japanese officials respond (or, more often, the response will come from academic "consultants" lobbying for the return of commercial whaling from their positions at various American universities), and the responses never vary: Sloppy research. Unreliable methodology. Unclear results. Obvious bias. (One favorite argument was that the supposed contraband was actually meat that had been in cold storage prior to the ban on the hunting of all those protected whale species taking effect in 1986. That argument collapsed in 1999 when Harvard biologists published the report of a multi-year study on a small minke whale meat "gift pack" purchased at an Osaka department store in 1993. The DNA sample matched the genetic sequence of a specific rare blue/fin whale hybrid that had been harpooned off Iceland on June 29, 1989.)

The scientists who do the DNA testing quietly answer and debunk each of the objections raised by the p.r. flacks, but the spin just has to be enough to create some confusion, just enough to obscure the essential fact that pirate whaling vessels are obviously killing protected, highly endangered whales in significant numbers, that the whale meat black market in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, at up to $100 @ pound retail, is a thriving industry, and Japan's minke whale "research" hunt is the perfect cover operation. That message is lost.

Then, at that year's meeting of the International Whaling Commission, Japan and Norway and the Caribbean states on which Japan lavishes foreign aid in exchange for their "aye" votes on things like IWC resolutions to expand whaling -- and "nay" votes on things like whale sanctuaries -- once again call for the lifting of the global moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since 1986 and the resumption of "closely managed," "strictly controlled," "monitored" commercial whaling. They lose.

Lately, however, there has been a shift in this scenario: Last July, the nations that had been opposing whaling and supporting protections for whales voted along with the whaling nations to end the moratorium and replace it with that "strictly controlled" whaling program. The name of this program is the Revised Management Scheme -- so named because it would replace the New Management Scheme. The NMS was abandoned soon after it was devised in 1975 when the IWC Scientific Committee realized that the calculations on which the NMS was based were fatally flawed and would have resulted in the severe depletion of already depleted populations of whales.

As drafted, the Revised Management Procedure, the mathematical model for the RMS, is, in the opinion of the Scientific Committee, based on sound science, highly precautionary, and takes into account all the best available evidence.

As it happens, that was exactly what they said about the New Management Scheme.

Like any two disparate groups trying to work together, scientists and environmental activists can only proceed so far, partaking of their areas of mutual congruency, before the scientists begin to voice alarm at activists who they feel are extrapolating too far from the numbers and theories in order to demand action or restraint; and activists anguish over scientists who routinely play into the hands of political or corporate interests in the belief that numbers and graphs will trump human greed or expediency.

Current events do not greatly support that belief as it pertains to whales. In Siberia, where the "subsistence" whaling of natives is in fact an ongoing, undisguised commercial whaling operation to provide feed for bankrupt fox farms, sixty new whaling ships are on order or under construction. This economically inexplicable activity commenced shortly after several visits to the region from Japanese trade delegations. In August 1999, Japan purchased memberships for three new nations in the International Whaling Commission. In the deal, brokered by Hiroaki Kameya, Japan's Vice Minister of Agriculture, the nations of Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Guinea join Japan's previously purchased Caribbean friends in order to work with Japan in the "sustainable use of wild marine resources including whales...within the IWC and the WTO." In return, the developing nations will receive "fisheries aid."

Calculating sustainable whale hunting, all activists and (almost) all scientists involved agree, is an exceptionally shaky business. Japan and Norway fume that the whale-protecting nations base their arguments on emotion and sentiment and that decisions about whale hunting must be "science based." To that end, Japan and Norway's fisheries agencies work furiously at producing generously proportioned "best estimates" of whale populations, which they then trumpet as having been accepted by the IWC Scientific Committee, and are therefore a scientific finding justifying the resumption of whaling.

Dr. Sidney Holt, a former IWC delegate and scientific advisor to the International Fund for Animal Welfare, explains how this process works. "Committee reports use a kind of code in which the meanings of words may not be at all what they seem. One example is the ambiguous use of 'best,' as in 'the best estimate of...'. This may refer to the central estimate in a range which is perhaps spanned by 'confidence limits'. Another, quite different meaning is what is thought to be the most reliable of three or more different estimates."

Also the use of the word "available," as in "The Committee agreed that xx was the best available estimate" does not necessarily mean it is the 'best' among several or in a range, says Holt. "The phrase has been used when there is only one estimate under consideration. 'Best' may mean neither that the estimate is necessarily a good one nor that it is an acceptable one; it merely exists."

This problem looms larger in a standard IWC pas-des-deux wherein an estimate is submitted to the Scientific Committee, which reports that "the Committee had before it" or "received" or "had submitted to it...." In subsequent Norwegian or Japanese government press releases, this simple, noncommittal acknowledgment then turns into 'the Scientific Committee "accepted" or "adopted" the estimate. This language is picked up by the world media and metastasizes into an accepted statement of fact.

In 1992, in the course of trying to establish the Revised Management Procedure as a mathematical basis for the Revised Management Scheme, Norwegian scientists presented to the Scientific Committee of the IWC minke whale estimates totaling 87,000 for four "small areas" in the Northeastern Atlantic. "Discussion of these was reported under the heading "best estimates for small areas for implementation of the RMP," writes Holt. "After some argument during which '...some concerns were expressed about [the methodology used]' and the Committee agreed that another method would be preferable, the Committee 'decided to accept" the numbers given. This acceptance was for the purpose of further simulation trials. It has since been misleadingly presented to the public (but not by the IWC) as the adoption by the Scientific Committee of a definitive total number."

Two years later, the concerns over methodology became full-blown alarm: Even on the basis of the plausible guesswork that is the science of whale counting, the Scientific Committee rejected Norway's estimate of 87,000 minke whales, pointing out a fundamental calculation error that mandated the estimate be cut by a third. When the news broke in May 1994, Norway initially fought the judgment, the head of the Norwegian IWC delegation saying "We are absolutely sure that our estimates of populations are based on a solid scientific basis" -- and, of course, adding the admonishment that "the calculation was accepted unanimously by the Scientific Committee of the IWC." Norway subsequently admitted the error and was forced to substantially cut its estimate and hunt quota for the following year.

At the 2000 IWC meeting, Japan's long-maintained estimate of 760,000 minke whales in the Antarctic was rejected by the Scientific Committee, which found the population to be in decline and their likely present-day numbers to be "appreciably lower" than Japan's hopeful estimate. The Committee refused to issue any estimate on the number of minkes in the Southern Ocean.

"[The fact] that knowledge is found to be inadequate for the provision of responsible advice on a particular question," notes Holt, "is in itself a 'scientific finding.'"

Once, we proved ourselves eminently capable of taking the whales to oblivion by harpoon alone. Now, an Antarctic ozone hole, global warming, marine pollution, ship strikes, net entanglements, and massive overfishing of their food supply has entered the extinction matrix. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the only definite thing the study of whales has ever had to say to the IWC and the indignant whalers is Come back sometime around 2036 and we'll talk.

In 1982, when the IWC took the extraordinary action of declaring a total moratorium, with zero hunt quotas on all whale species (granting four years for whalers to get into another line of work before the ban took effect), it did not do so out of a sudden rush of compassion or remorse. It did so because it had tried everything else and nothing worked. Limited quotas and selective hunt bans on certain species had been imposed to no effect; the great whales were circling the drain of extinction at an accelerating rate, just as they had been doing before the IWC had come into being in 1946 with the intention of conserving whale stocks to ensure the survival of the whaling industry, and then failing to do so in spectacular fashion. Nothing was halting the slide into oblivion of the largest animals the world has ever produced, pushed along by the hand of man. So the IWC pulled the emergency brake. The slide was slowed.

Now, the whaling nations are arguing -- as they began arguing only two years after the inception of the moratorium -- that the whales have recovered. The slow-growing, low-reproducing leviathans of the seas have had 14 years to bounce back from 150 years of industrial slaughter, and they are consuming valuable commercial fish stocks, so it's time to get back to business and also thin the herd. As noted, the source of growing alarm for many activists is not the absurd, oft-repeated claim itself, but who is now acting as though they agree with these arguments, while continuing to claim steadfast opposition to commercial whaling: The United States government and several heavy-hitting big green groups.

The U.S. and allied governmental and non-governmental organizations have a number of rational arguments for falling in line behind the Revised Management Scheme. The moratorium is leaking like a sieve, they point out. Japan and Norway are already killing hundreds of whales every year. They are extremely impatient with the IWC because it has already taken so long to draft an RMS. The World Wildlife Fund backs the plan as a "safety net," framing the issue not as an argument over whether any nation should be engaging in the lethal exploitation of whales, but as a necessary "completion of a strong management system for whales to replace the current weak and outdated one." Most of the strategists don't go this far, simply believing that going along with the process confers some influence over the process, such as insisting on requirements -- satellite tracking and on-board observer programs paid for by the whaling nations -- that the whalers are unlikely to accept. Thus (they hope), the RMS will never be implemented, remaining a theoretical model that would only permit whale hunting if and when the IWC agrees that there is enough hard data to show that hunting won't endanger a particular whale species.

Aside from the inherent flaw of any strategy that requires the cooperation of your opponent in order to succeed, there is one, immediate major problem with drafting, completing, and presenting a theoretical Revised Management Scheme to the IWC, even for "provisional" approval: Such approval will very likely trigger the listing of at least two species of great whales for "limited trade" by another global conservation organization, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

"The Revised Management Procedure for determining and regulating permissable whale takes was adopted by the Commission in 1994 but has not yet been implemented. This step is still awaiting formulation and adoption of an arrangement for observing and enforcing the substantive regulations for particular stocks. Thus, the main obstacle to resumption of commercial whaling on abundant stocks is achieving agreement on the details of this arrangement, called the Revised Management Scheme. (RMS)"

-- William T. Burke, professor of Law emeritus, University of Washington
Isana 23, journal of the Japan Whaling Association

That linkage was highlighted and underlined at the April 2000 meeting of the Parties to CITES in Nairobi, Kenya. Japan came to the table with a proposal to down-list gray and minke whales from Appendix I ("threatened with extinction") to Appendix II ("regulated trade permitted"). Before the meeting, Willem Wouter Wijnstekers, a former Dutch government bureaucrat who is now Secretary General of CITES, had recommended re-opening global trade in minke and gray whales, in accordance with the wishes of Japan and Norway. He was forced to reverse his recommendation when the majority of CITES member nations pointed out that no move to re-open trade in whales at CITES could be made in the absence of a management plan for whale hunting at the IWC. The proposal to down-list was defeated.

After the CITES decision in April, the July 2000 meeting of the IWC in Australia was a full-court press to get the RMS process off the ground. In the lead-up to the meeting, retiring IWC secretary Ray Gambell doffed the guise of impartial neutrality and came to resemble a politician running for office, telling the BBC on June 12 that it would be "much better" if the whaling of Norway and Japan were "brought within international regulations," and that "the Commission will need to move forward on measures which would allow controlled whaling...otherwise it will lose credibility."

The draft Revised Management Scheme was authored by Ferdinand von der Assen, head of the IWC's RMS Committee and a bureaucrat with the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. The draft was provisionally approved at the July meeting of the IWC the day after a letter was dispatched to IWC Chairman Michael Canny by von der Assen's countryman, CITES Secretary General Wijnsteker. The July 4 letter sternly informed Canny that "the IWC should soon make important progress towards the adoption of a Revised Management Scheme. This would allow the Conference of the Parties to CITES to adopt the appropriate management regime for whale stocks."

Von der Assen subsequently defended his role in the RMS by saying that "in order to maintain its stated objective to properly conserve the whale populations, and also to secure the existence of the organisation itself, the IWC needs to find a compromise that will be accepted by all parties." After the IWC met in July 2000, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society informed the Dutch media and the citizens of the Netherlands of the scheme's existence and their government's role as its primary author. Von der Assen attempted further defense, saying that "the scientific component of this Scheme...was agreed by IWC resolution in 1994."

The statement covered a multitude of sins. The 1994 "provisional acceptance" of that scientific component -- the Revised Management Procedure -- was fraught with back-room deal-making, and was vigorously opposed by the Friends of Animals, Cetacean Society International, the Environmental Investigation Agency, and Sea Shepherd, among others, as the "Renewed Massacre Plan" and a "we won't inhale" strategy, a naive sell-out of the whales by the US and UK delegations who spear-headed the effort on the theory that it was a necessary appeasement of the whaling nations in order to secure the establishment of the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. (An instructive passage from the Norwegian newspaper Stavanger Aftenblad of April 25, 1994: "A Dutch government note warned the [whale] protective nations from believing that they will have a majority vote for such a proposal at the Mexico meeting without giving anything in return. The Dutch therefore proposed a trade: The protective nations will accept whaling outside the Antarctic if the whaling nations will support the sanctuary.")

This deal was promoted by none other than Vice President Al Gore, who, in a memo of October 5, 1993, to his personal friend, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Brundtland, pledged to "join you in working in good faith within the IWC to complete all aspects of the Revised Management Scheme in 1994." Gore secured provisional adoption of the hunt protocol at the May 1994 meeting of the IWC in Mexico.

At that meeting, the International Fund for Animal Welfare said of the RMP: "IFAW considers that the illusion that the RMP provides an objective 'scientific' method for calculating 'scientifically based' numbers should be erased. There is, admittedly, some scientific knowledge embedded in it -- but very little, and most of that is weakly documented specification of what is thought not to be known." (Worthy of note: This statement was made in the context of IFAW's statement in support of "provisional acceptance" for the Revised Management search of that "compromise that will be accepted by all parties.")

But the fundamental thing the Revised Management Scheme will do is end the moratorium on commercial whaling. The moratorium is what the RMS is being constructed to replace. And as was repeatedly made clear at the April 2000 meeting of CITES in Kenya, once an RMS is adopted, both minke and gray whales (for starters) will be down-listed, approved for international trade.

Will the nations that forced acceptance of a hasty, inadequate RMP, and are now pushing for completion of the RMS, honor a moratorium on the hunting of whales in a world in which international trade in whale meat has become technically legal? Are the U.S. government and fellow RMS proponents correct in saying there is simply no alternative to this plan? And does recent history support that stance?

In 1982, The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea affirmed that cetaceans are in all likelihood intelligent, sentient, communicative beings; to be classified as a special status species subject to conservation measures beyond those taken simply to preserve fish stocks. Ten years ago, at its 18th General Assembly Session in Perth, Australia, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) resolved that the IWC should "maintain the existing moratorium on the commercial killing of all whale stocks indefinitely." The meeting was attended by representatives of hundreds of governments, non-governmental organizations, research institutions, and conservation agencies from 118 countries. The resolution, along with its numerous substantive scientific bases, was subsequently endorsed by the Global Cetacean Coalition, an alliance of 60-plus national and international NGO's in two dozen countries.

In 1996, British Labour MP Barry Sheerman called for EU sanctions against Norway for "their refusal to conform to reasonable regulation for the hunting of whales." A trade ban on all services and products traded with Norway, Sheerman noted "would fully complement parallel moves to introduce a consumer boycott on all Norwegian goods. It is my belief that an enforceable EU trade ban would have extremely decisive results." The same year, more than 100 UK Ministers of Parliament signed a motion calling for the moratorium on commercial whaling to be extended for at least another fifty years. Shortly thereafter, the Australian government's National Task Force on Whaling recommended to the Environment Minister that Australia "work towards the insertion in the [IWC] Schedule of a commitment to a fifty year moratorium, using a precedent such as the Madrid Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty (on exploitation of mineral resources.)"

By 1997, the group Breach Marine Protection UK had gathered ten million signatures on a "Popular Resolution on the Abolition of Inhumane Commercial Slaughter of Whales," which was formulated in the language of a UN treaty, calling for a permanent ban on commercial and "scientific" whaling and the establishment of a global whale sanctuary in all the oceans of the world. In 2000, Breach Marine succeeded in getting whales onto the agenda of the UN Millennium Forum as part of the vision of "a UN for the 21st Century," with an initiative that calls for the establishment of an International Convention for the Conservation of Cetaceans (ICCC) -- a new iteration of the IWC with the goal of keeping whales alive, but not with the additional goal of doing so in order to resume their slaughter. The Millennium Forum -- 1,350 representatives of 1,000-plus non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations from more than 100 countries -- met at United Nations headquarters in New York on May 22, 2000, to build on agreements achieved at UN world conferences of the previous decade. The Forum urged the UN "to encourage UNEP and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to create an appropriate legal framework for the protection of marine life."

Last year the government of Japan received a letter signed by 73 prominent Japanese individuals and organizations, including the Japan Wildlife Conservation Society, the Japan Consumers' Union, the Elsa Nature Conservancy, the Hokkaido Animal Conservation Society, and Japan Animal Welfare Society. They informed their nation's leaders that "the consumption of whale meat is not an indispensable part of the Japanese diet," the government's insistent claims to the international community to the contrary. They demanded that Japan "stop killing whales in the name of science," cease using fisheries aid to buy the pro-whaling votes of other countries at the IWC, alert consumers to the health risks of eating chemically contaminated whale meat, and "stop using the taxpayer's money to propagate biased reports designed to promote whaling."

In determining the fate of the whales, the foregoing would seem to indicate that there are options available to us other than the path of the Revised Management Scheme.

Such actions, however, would require political will. As with most international issues, that will must originate with the United States. A largely unreported incident from the recent presidential campaign would seem to illustrate the likelihood of that will developing here: On June 29, Washington State whale activist Sandra Abels called Gore campaign headquarters in Tennessee to discuss the upcoming crucial vote at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Australia. She spoke with Sean McLaughlin, who identified himself as a "policy advisor" to the Gore campaign and went on to state that "There are plenty of whales out there; killing a few isn't really going to make a difference." Abels promptly told the press. "Then he told me that Gore is for whatever would mean killing less whales, even if that means eliminating the global ban so that whaling activities could be 'better regulated,'" she said. "I requested that he put that in writing and he agreed to fax me an official statement. Then he called back and said he didn't think it would be 'appropriate' to do so." The Gore campaign officially disavowed McLaughlin's statements the following day.

Going along with the RMS does not require political will. Our political leaders are backing the RMS because they believe they can make it work, or they believe it will never become a reality, or simply that all must agree because disagreement is a bad thing. They believe there must be a compromise. And then we must all hope for the best. The situation recalls the anti-war classic "The Bridge on the River Kwai:" A British officer in a POW camp, in order to boost the morale of his men (or "to secure the existence of the organization itself," one might say) embarks upon an ambitious bridge-building project at the behest of his captors, turning a slipshod forced-labor effort into an engineering marvel and a work of craftsmanship, skill, and perseverance that all could be proud of. Only as he sees the first enemy munitions train crossing it en route to the destruction of his comrades, an end made possible by his efforts, does he realize his fundamental error.

On what basis can we justify even discussing a return to "limited, controlled" commercial whaling in order to maintain a globalpolitik status quo -- as though this were the only option -- instead of saying "no" and backing it up? Could not the IWC delegations of the Netherlands, the United States, and like-minded nations and NGO's take the energy they are currently expending on appeasing the commercial whaling industries of Norway and Japan and transform it into the collective will to take a stand on the common-sense principle that science cannot possibly determine the health of such an over-exploited, slow-reproducing species after a mere decade and a half of semi-suspended exploitation? Could we affirm the obvious, that such a determination cannot be made until at least fifty years of total and unequivocal non-exploitation have passed, and that any violations of that moratorium should be met with immediate, massive, international sanctions?

When it comes to the management of whaling, the lessons of recent history are dire. Against the confident assurances of the backers of the Revised Management Scheme is the evidence that whale hunting cannot be "managed." Between 1959 and 1973 more than 2,000 endangered right whales were taken by one Soviet factory ship. It logged an officially reported catch of one right whale. In that time frame, Russia's factory fleets reported a take of 37,275 sperm whales in the North Pacific. The real catch records (each ship kept two sets of books) subsequently revealed an actual catch of 66,950 sperm whales. This occurred with an international on-board IWC observer system in place.

With all present international safeguards, whale meat smuggling is now at the point where, as Canada's National Post reported on January 28, 1999, "about half the whale meat for sale in Japan is not from minke whales." Japan's self-assigned "legal" minke whale kill makes this trade possible. More such "legalized" trade will expand the black market accordingly. Scientific assurances that a particular whale stock is sufficiently numerous to sustain a hunt at a particular level can only aid in green-lighting the flood of contraband that would be funneled into that legalized trade.

To change a mind-set that accepts a concept such as "The numbers say it may now be safe for us to kill X number of whales from Y species," to one that accepts the idea "They have the right to be left in peace" requires a leap. We have made such leaps before. They have been based on similar radical ideas -- that slaves should be free, women should vote, wilderness should be protected. Many people were angered and many arguments were made (and in the last case, are still being made) to the contrary. In none of these cases were all parties convinced of the rightness of the action. But in the end, the leap was made, and because it was, at the end of our run we will be able to look back over our history and say "See? Sometimes we got it right."

The push to establish a Revised Management Scheme for whale hunting will not produce that result. In the absence of the vision and political will to maintain a coalition to enforce a moratorium, impose sanctions, and save the whales, the whaling fleets will expand and the catcher ships will invade every ocean on earth. Flag-of-convenience pirate whaling and smuggling operations -- a fact of life today under Japan's non-sanctioned 500-a-year minke whale hunt -- will explode with the return of legalized international trade in whale meat. When that happens, the void formed by the moral failure of national governments will be filled by radical activists. When the whalers and factory freezer ships once again cover the seas, activists can be counted on to do the kind of thing that is one of the things this organization was specifically created to do, what we first did in 1979, when we hunted down the Sierra, the worst pirate whaling ship of all time.

We will sink them.

To urge the U.S. government to support an expansion of the moratorium on whaling instead of the Revised Management Scheme, contact Rolland Schmitten, deputy director of NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. IWC Commissioner, at 202-482-2652. Fax: 202-482-4307.

Sea Shepherd International
P.O. Box 2616
Friday Harbor, WA  98250
Web Site:Sea Shepherd International
Tel:  (360) 370-5500 

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