International Marine Mammal Project

Some progress at IWC

Earth Island News

International Marine Mammal Project

The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) again participated in the annual International Whaling Commission (IWC), held June 16-19, 2003 in Berlin, Germany.

Nations opposing commercial whaling held a slim majority in voting again this year. This year, whaling nations Japan and Norway were joined by Iceland, whose membership in the IWC was approved by a one-vote margin at an intersessional meeting in London last fall. The whaling nations were also supported by a number of countries that receive fisheries aid from Japan, ostensibly in exchange for their pro-whaling votes at the IWC.

IMMP published ECO, the daily newsletter prepared by NGOs outlining the conservation issues before the Commission. (For online copies of this year’s edition of ECO, visit An article in ECO outlining Japan’s purported vote-buying scheme led to a major controversy within the IWC, resulting in a statement by the IWC asking ECO to cease publication. ECO continued publication, and was distributed outside the doors of the IWC meeting.

In a significant victory for environmentalists, the IWC majority approved a new Conservation Committee, which was angrily opposed by Japan, Iceland and Norway. For many years, the IWC has addressed environmental issues such as protecting whales from habitat and pollution problems, fishing nets, and whalewatching and other disturbances. These “conservation issues” will now be grouped under the purview of an ongoing IWC Conservation Committee that will provide better coordination for whale research and conservation efforts outside the IWC’s historic role of regulating whaling.

For the last few years, IMMP and other environmental groups have urged the IWC to include the issue of underwater noise on the Commission’s agenda. A number of incidents of whale and porpoise strandings around the world have coincided with the use of loud military sonars. Both the Scientific Committee of the IWC and the IWC itself are now routinely including reviews of noise pollution issues on their agendas.

This year, the IWC passed further resolutions condemning scientific whaling by Japan, that country’s thinly veiled excuse to continue and expand commercial whaling. A proposal by Iceland to begin a scientific whaling scheme was also rejected by the IWC, but Iceland moved ahead regardless.

Majority votes were also approved for establishing new whale sanctuaries in the southern Pacific and southern Atlantic, championed by Australia, New Zealand, and Brazil. But a three-quarters majority is needed to establish new sanctuaries. Japan, Norway, Iceland, and their bloc of nations were able to prevent a three-quarters majority vote. Supporters of the sanctuaries propose to try again next year.

Overall, the environmental community was pleased with the progress made at this year’s IWC meeting, but Japan, Norway, and now Iceland continue to flout international laws and public opposition by promoting various commercial whaling operations. Both Japan and Norway are increasing the number of whales they are killing annually.

- Mark J. Palmer

Take Action: Contact Iceland’s embassy in Washington, D.C.: Mr. Helgi Ágústsson, Ambassador; Embassy of Iceland, 1156 15th Street N.W., Suite 1200, Washington, D.C. 20005, (202) 265-6653, (202) 265-6656 (fax), e-mail: Urge the government of Iceland to halt plans to kill whales for scientific research or commercial purposes, and to withdraw its formal objection to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling.

Military vs. whales fight continues in Congress

Efforts by the Bush administration to exempt US Armed Forces from key environmental laws, particularly the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA), continue in Congress. (See “Congress passes conflicting military exemptions” in EIJ Autumn 2003.)

Pressure mounted in late August when the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental organizations won a key victory in federal court to restrict the use of experimental Low Frequency Active (LFA) Sonar by the Navy. In her decision, Judge Elizabeth Laporte expressed concerns about the effects of Navy sonars on whales and dolphins, but stopped short of a ban on the use of LFA Sonar. Instead, an agreement will be worked out between the Navy and the environmental groups to protect key marine mammal habitats but allow the Navy more flexibility in testing and training with LFA Sonar in the ocean.

The Navy, however, is complaining to Congress, trying to push legislative exemptions that would prevent any restrictions from being imposed on the use of LFA Sonar and similar intense sonars.

A Congressional conference committee, chaired by Senator John Warner (R-VA), will be working out differences in the versions of the proposed military exemptions passed by the House and the Senate. The House version exempts the Navy from many provisions of the MMPA and prevents the designation of “critical habitat” for endangered species on any military lands via the ESA. The Senate version, by contrast, does not weaken the MMPA at all and provides some protection to endangered species habitat on military lands.

The case against intense sonars got stronger in May when whale watchers in Puget Sound noticed a piercing sound suddenly flooding the ocean around them - so loud that they could hear it on the surface. A nearby pod of endangered orcas immediately fled the noise. Later, 13 harbor porpoises were found dead in the vicinity, some with bleeding ears and signs of other injuries associated with loud sonars. Offshore, the Navy vessel Shoup was apparently in the area using a standard mid-range sonar at very high levels.

Washington Governor Gary Locke has asked the Navy for an explanation of the incident. Studies are still being conducted on the dead porpoises to determine if sound trauma occurred.

- Mark J. Palmer

Take Action: Fax, call, or write to Senators John Warner and John McCain, key members of the Defense Authorization Bill Conference Committee! Urge them to oppose any amendments to exempt the military from environmental laws. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Room SR 241, Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, (202) 224-2235, (202) 228-2862 (fax). Senator John Warner (R-VA), Room SR 225, Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510, (202) 224-2023, (202) 224-6295 (fax).

Whale activist killed in St. Lucia

Earth Island and environmental activists around the world are mourning the loss of Jane Tipson of St. Lucia. Jane was a regular activist at meetings of the International Whaling Commission. In 1995, she co-founded the Eastern Caribbean Coaliton for Environmental Awareness (ECCEA) and was responsible for the regional program in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. She also created the St. Lucia Whale and Dolphin Watching Association and promoted the development of a now flourishing whale-watching industry in that country. Jane’s time and entire income were devoted to the St. Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS), an organization she founded to alleviate the misery of wild and domestic animals. In the early hours of September 16, Jane was fatally shot as she drove across a bridge approaching her home in Monchy. We will miss Jane’s dedicated work for whales and other animals.

The International Veterinary Assistance (IVA, a US-based 501(c)3 nonprofit that recently worked with Jane in St. Lucia) is accepting donations on behalf of St. Lucia Animal Protection Society (SLAPS). Donations will be forwarded without any additional fees or deductions. Please send your check payable to International Veterinary Assistance, Inc., (indicating in the memo section of the check that this is a donation for SLAPS), to Dr. Angela Witt, Director, International Veterinary Assistance, Inc., 1928 DuBay Drive,Mosinee, WI 54455 USA

Get the Journal in your inbox.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter.

Subscribe Now

For $15 you can get four issues of the magazine, a 50 percent savings off the newsstand rate.