The Whale Advantage

15 Jun 2003

Whales are accused of anything and everything. They reap the ocean’s harvest of fish, they represent a deadly risk for sailing race boats, in the same way they were accused last century of attacking Ocean liners. “The Initiative of Berlin” signed by eighteen member countries (*) during its 55th pleniary meeting seeks to reverse current trends.

It seeks the implementation within the commission of a committee for the protection of whales which would coordinate and complement the existing Scientific Committee. The official role of this new structure would be in conformity with the 1946 founding text of the Convention which calls “In the interests of all countries worldwide to safeguard the large natural resources represented by whales’ populations for the next generation”.

Japan and Norway are the largest surviving whaling countries, with their Carribean and Asian allies they could potentially block the Berlin Initiative. They are obsessed with the resuming of whaling and reluctant to help list the numerous threats to the whales and its habitat.

The signing countries already identify major risks for whales in the course of the 21st century among others; the world fishing effort, the accidental catches, intoxication through increase in sea pollution, collisions with fast sailing vessels, physical modifications in the coastal habitat and near off-shore petrol operations and finally consequences of climate changes in marine environment. The reflection and the action of the eighteen signing member countries support the conclusions and the call for action from environment agencies who observe at I.W.C. . The latter have launched appeals for ten years; they include Environmental Investigation Agency, Whales and Dolphins Conservation Society, Greenpeace and Robin des Bois.

As for Robin des Bois they also renew in Berlin their encouragement to all delegations and in particular to the French delegation to restart the research on the positive contribution of whales to the environment throughout their life cycle. Both in terms of marine environment in general, and in terms of fish stock in particular. Following the request from the 1972 United Nations conference in Stockholm to take environment and its protection into account, research on the positive contribution of the whales in the plankton distribution and the recycling and dispersion of marine nutrients was started. The bulk of this research dates from 1975 to 1980 though American scientists have, as late as 1989, put in evidence that, in the Pacific Ocean Grey Whales’ skeletons contribute to the formation and dissemination of specific bacterials and shell-fish. Within the framework of the existing Scientific Committee, and potentially the future Protection Committee, the I.W.C. owes it to the Whales and to science in general to strongly develop this field of research.

(*) Australia, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, San Marin, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom, and The United States of America

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