I am pleased to have attended part of this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Panama (IWC64) to demonstrate the UK’s commitment to the conservation work of the IWC and our fundamental support for the moratorium on commercial whaling.
The meeting delivered positive results for the conservation and welfare of whales which should not be overshadowed by the hugely unwelcome proposal by the Republic of Korea on its intention to commence so called “scientific whaling”. The UK Government are firmly against this proposal and will continue to state our opposition at every opportunity.
We maintained our strong line on a number of conservation issues, raising our concern about the critically endangered status of the western gray whale and welcoming the recommendation from the IWC Scientific Committee on ensuring appropriate monitoring and mitigation plans for oil and gas operations and work on entanglement, which pose the greatest threats to this critically endangered species. We also stated our support for a conservation management plan to protect southern right whales and welcomed further work on marine debris and ship strikes. The UK was also pleased to take on the role of vice chair of the IWC’s Conservation Committee.
We made significant progress in gaining consensus on our proposals for strengthening the IWC’s welfare agenda, a major step towards embedding welfare considerations across the work of the IWC. Among the recommendations was a proposal for a UK funded workshop on the euthanasia of stranded whales, with many IWC members expressing an interest in participating. Similarly, recommendations from a UK chaired intersessional group on strengthening IWC financing for whale conservation were adopted.
We are pleased that an EU resolution on the importance of reducing contaminants into the marine environment and the possible effects on human health was passed by consensus. The UK also supported the south Atlantic whale sanctuary, proposed by Brazil and others, which looked to promote the long-term conservation of large whales throughout their habitat. Unfortunately this proposal was defeated in a vote.
The UK supports aboriginal subsistence whaling where it is sustainable and there is a clear and identified “need”. We supported a request from the USA, Russia and St Vincent and the Grenadines for a roll-over of their existing quota for the next six-year period, receiving reassurances following our questions to St Vincent on the provision of data. However, Greenland’s request for an increase in quota was rejected by the IWC as many countries continued to have concerns over the level of commerciality associated with the Greenlandic hunt and whether the increase in quota was appropriate to meet their needs; as a result no quota was agreed for Greenland.
We were pleased by the agreement to increase participation of observers in IWC business, and the UK will also continue to engage in intersessional work seeking to improve governance processes, to ensure that the IWC can operate effectively and in line with international best practice. Finally, with the adoption of a proposal for the IWC to move to biennial meetings we believe it is important that any progress on the conservation of cetaceans is not hindered and will encourage countries to work intersessionally to protect the future of whale populations worldwide.