June 25, 2010
IWC fails to reach agreement

A controversial proposal to end the 24-year-old ban on commercial whaling was shelved on June 23 at the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC’s) annual meeting in Agadir, Morocco.{{more}} The 88 member governments of the IWC failed to reach an agreement on details of a plan that would have legalized whaling by some nations in return for more oversight of the hunt by the commission. The proposal was put forward by the group’s chair, Cristian Maquieira, after a committee studied the problems facing the commission for more than 3 years.

IWC is divided between pro-whaling nations and those that are more conservation-oriented. But many scientists were unhappy with Maquieria’s proposal, with more than 200 signing a petition on Tuesday that asked IWC to maintain the ban.

Even some members of the commission’s scientific committee, which tracks the health and populations of whale species worldwide, opposed the proposal, saying it undercut the committee’s work, which included calculations of how many whales could be caught. The plan would have included quotas arrived upon by political negation instead of science.

“Although it’s too early to declare victory, there’s a good chance now that science will not be sidelined as would have been the case had the chair’s proposal been adopted,” says Justin Cooke, a mathematical modeler in Freiburg, Germany, who represents the International Union for Conservation of Nature at the IWC meeting. “Under the chair’s proposal, the Scientific Committee’s work would have been effectively irrelevant.”

Other scientists, however, including Douglas DeMaster, the chair of the IWC’s Scientific Committee and deputy commissioner for the U.S. delegation at the IWC, argues that “whales lose while the moratorium stays in place.” That’s because the whaling nations currently set their own quotas. Although the United States actively participated in developing the chair’s proposal, it did not support it. But the delegation “regrets that the IWC failed to reach agreement on a new paradigm that would improve the conservation of whales.”