On Monday, the 68th meeting of the International Whaling Commission kicks off in the beautiful seaside town of Portoroz, Slovenia.
But why should anyone be interested in this, especially given that whaling no longer occurs in Australia? And why this body is still needed? Well, the answer is that both in Australia and internationally, our whales remain under threat more than ever before, and the International Whaling Commission is an essential body to help maintain important protections for whales, with regards to whaling and beyond.
Whilst many nations no longer undertake whaling commercially, some such as Japan, Iceland and Norway still do, and at each IWC (including this one) attempts are made to lift the global whaling moratorium. The global whaling moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed in 1982 by members of the International Whaling Commission meeting, after more than three million whales were killed in the 20th century for their oil and meat. 2022 marks the 40th anniversary of this momentous decision for the world’s populations of whales, which ensured that countless whales were protected, and in many cases species and populations pulled back from the edge of extinction.
However species showing remarkable recoveries can bring significant challenges, the humpback population on Australia’s east coast being a notable example. There continues to be relentless calls from some countries to lift the moratorium to enable commercial whaling once again, in attempt to reignite this cruel and unnecessary industry worldwide.
Whales face enormous pressures on a day to day basis, as they are caught in fishing operations, tangled in or consume plastic debris, hit by ships, and impacted by climate change as it effects their prey such as krill. They cross international boundaries with no limitations, so we need an international body to ensure their continued protection.
Countries such as Australia have long supported the need for a modernised IWC with a focus on the conservation of whales. The consumption of whale meat is on the decline, even in the few countries undertaking whaling, questioning the drive to reestablish international whaling.
In the coming week, critical issues such as the budget and structure of the IWC will be discussed, with the very future of the Commission hanging in the balance. Stakes are high. Should countries not agree to resource the Commission, the global whaling moratorium could face challenges. This will also be the first in person meeting since Japan left the IWC in 2019 – so that they could resume whaling commercially in their coastal waters. Whilst Japan is no longer a member of the IWC, they still attend meetings as an observer, and whether they continue to exert influence remains to be seen.
Australians love our whales and our waters provide them with vital protections, which they need in order to perform their vital role in healthy marine ecosystems. Many of us enjoy watching whales on their annual migration along our coasts. In the next week we’ll be doing everything we can here in Slovenia to ensure our whales can continue to enjoy these hard earned protections.
Campaigns Manager – Fisheries and Threatened Species