During the first week of July, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) is set to meet in Panama. At the IWC meeting last year, a measure was passed that makes it much more difficult for Japan to keep paying small, developing nations to vote with them on their agenda to restart commercial whaling. While a noteworthy achievement, whale conservation overall has gained a little momentum.
At this year’s meeting, the IWC can give new life to the effort, passing a proposal to designate the entire South Atlantic Ocean as a whale sanctuary (SAWS).
From the freezing waters of the Antarctic to the warm waters of the equator, this area of the Atlantic is vital to total and true whale conservation and protection. Most of the great whales are highly migratory, feeding in the nutrient-rich waters of the Antarctic before traveling to tropical waters where they give birth and suckle their young. These incomparable animals then make the long migration back to their feeding grounds.
Since whales rarely cross the equator, establishment of the SAWS means the whales of the Southern Hemisphere could live their entire lives in an area free from commercial whaling.
Panama is perfect place to make the SAWS a reality. Panama was the first Latin country to rebuff Japan and turn away from supporting commercial whaling, and has since become an outspoken advocate for the protection of whales. The Panamanian government is rightly proud of their pro-whale conservation position, and elected officials have convinced several other Latin nations to turn away from Japan as well. Now there’s a block of Latin countries at the IWC that are united in their push for whale conservation.
Here at home, President Obama’s whale team is also taking strong positions on whale conservation, including support for the SAWS. Only last week I attended a public hearing with President Obama’s whale team where we learned that the US State Department has sent letters to all IWC member nations letting them know the US strongly supports the SAWS, and encouraging them to join this effort. You can thank President Obama and at the same time ask them to stay strong and continue to their international leadership on whale conservation by taking action.
Panama is a whale of an opportunity (sorry to spout off a bad pun) to move whale conservation forward, and I say this for two key reasons:
- SAWS will be the first agenda item of this year’s meeting.
- Panama and most of Latin America are strong on whale conservation.
In truth, we haven’t seen such an outpouring of excitement over whales since the 1980s when the commercial hunting moratorium was passed by the IWC.
Greenpeace has been working with local NGOs and the government of Panama to make sure the delegates to this year’s IWC can’t help but feel excitement about saving whales. The weekend before the meeting there’s going to be the biggest party celebrating whales the world has seen since the 1980s. We hope to draw international media attention, dragging the IWC out from behind closed doors to let them know the world is watching. There will be billboard photo displays portraying the value of live whales posted all over Panama city, also reminding IWC delegates that we are paying attention to this issue on a global scale. And I’ll be in Panama personally, delivering the message on behalf of all United States citizens that we love whales and want them to live in peace.