Last year, China’s baiji dolphin was declared extinct. The fates of the western grey whale, northern right, vaquita and New Zealand’s Maui and Hector dolphins now hang in the balance.
Surely this should serve as a guide to the International Whaling Commission of where its direction lies.
Undoubtedly it is time the commission was modernised. If we are to have any hope of protecting the world’s whale and dolphin populations, this modernisation must outstrip the pace at which these mammals are becoming extinct.
The IWC was set up in 1946 to conserve whales and regulate an out of control whaling industry.
It has has been dominated by unproductive discussions on commercial whaling – a subject over which the commission is deeply divided.
It has become obvious to all that the commission can’t stay locked in this bitter stalemate for ever.
It is definitely time for a change in direction. It is time the IWC took a progressive step and shifted its focus from the exploitation of whales and dolphins to their conservation and protection.
Instead of debating the merits of whaling, the IWC needs to redirect its energies towards increasing our scientific knowledge of the ecology, biology and behaviours of these magnificent mammals.
Studies should be funded to increase our understanding of whale numbers, their migratory paths, communication skills, social dynamics, and culture.
The IWC should be conducting research to predict and quantify the effect on whales and dolphin populations of climate change, noise pollution, ship strikes, toxic pollution, habitat destruction and entanglement.
Methods should be developed to evaluate the effect of whale watching and to facilitate sharing of information within the global whale watching industry.
More than nine million people go whale watching every year. The global economic value of the whale watching industry is estimated to be more than US$1 billion ($1.27 billion).
Instead of brokering deals on new categories of whaling, the IWC should be taking steps to ensure that whaling for commercial purposes comes to an end for good. Now is not the time to compromise.
In today’s world any attempt to hunt these long-lived, slow-breeding mammals can only be considered irresponsible and needlessly cruel.
* Bridget Vercoe is the New Zealand programmes manager for the World Society for the Protection of Animals. WSPA leads the Whalewatch Network – an international coalition of more than 140 anti-whaling groups from more than 55 countries.