The Forgotten Arctic

27 Jun 1996


All northern hemisphere whales under the responsibility of the IWC are dependent on the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. However the Arctic is subject to an exploitation of natural resources which is becoming more and more intense.

One of the AEPS (Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy) working groups stated in its 1996 report that “issues of concern in the Arctic are : the past dumping of radioactive wastes ; the possible future dumping of liquid radioactive wastes ; the potential of future dumping of contaminated dredged materials for increased shipping activities ; and the possibility of future dumping associated with the potential growth of Arctic towns and cities.”

A latest example of this industrialization has just been given by Russia : “The first round of licence negotiations concerning several sites in the Barents offshore is planned”. (Lloyd’s List 10/05/96)

The reluctance or refusal of Arctic range countries to deepen their researches on the whales’ capacity to adapt to this new context and to define measures able to guarantee their survival are especially discouraging and disappointing. Moreover, Arctic countries with their so-called support for indigenous causes do not seem to take into consideration the fact that the meat from marine mammals used for dietary purposes could be dangerous to the health of these people.

The argument, which was already touched on in Dublin and developed upon yesterday, that research undertaken by the IWC would “duplicate” research already effected by the AEPS or other bodies is blatantly untrue: there is no specific research at present on whales under the AEPS. In any case, during the past intersessionary year, no AEPS information on Arctic whales was sent to the IWC Scientific Committee.

However, information sent to Robin des Bois by various Arctic laboratories shows an urgent need for research on the effects of pollutants which come from industrialized countries and end up concentrated in the Arctic.

Unfortunately for this subject, the precautionary principle does not seem to play a role in the IWC, a law of silence is more evident. It can be deduced from the Russian statement yesterday of “…object[ion] to the continuation of research [on this subject] by the Scientific Committee of the IWC” that multidisciplinary and international research are practically forbidden and that Russian scientists who dare or who would dare to say that certain whales in certain zones are threatened could end up with the same fate as ex-captain Alexander Nikitin, imprisoned for drawing up an inventory of the dumping of Russian radioactive waste and materials in the Kara Sea.

Robin des Bois asks every Commissioner and every NGO – whether they be pro-whaling or anti-whaling – to become aware of Arctic issues and risks and to put forward propositions during the intersessionary period and at the next meeting in Monaco.






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