I’ve been in southern New England this past week on the book tour, and one recent stop was Nantucket Island, historically a center of American whaling and now at the geographic heart of the region’s robust and lucrative whale-watching industry. Whenever I travel there, I am mindful both of America’s one-time status as a mighty whaling nation, and of the dramatic shift we’ve made in the United States from the killing of marine mammals to the joyful appreciation of them. We’ve monetized both enterprises, and clearly the one built on respect for animals is the superior option morally and economically. It’s a model I hope that other animal-use industries can learn from whale watching so that our nation can build the new, humane economy I talk about in The Bond.
This does not mean that things are well for whales in our world, however, and this week, a team from Humane Society International is attending the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Jersey, Channel Islands. There, after several years of roiling controversy over the IWC’s governance practices, the delegates voted unanimously to adopt a United Kingdom proposal to spur crucial reforms. The United States, as well as European Union members and the Buenos Aires Group of Latin American nations at the IWC, supported this proposal, which prohibits cash payments for membership dues in order to curb vote buying and other mischief. It also lays the ground for mechanisms to expand and fund greater participation by developing nations with an interest in whales and to explore channels for expanded participation and speaking rights for non-governmental observers.
It was a great plus that Japan chose to withdraw its proposal for commercial whaling on its shores, an initiative that we have consistently opposed along with other organizations and many member nations of the IWC. It would have been good to see the South Atlantic Sanctuary receive approval, but in the rough-and-tumble world of whale politics, that was too big a lift this year.
Last year, for months leading up to the IWC annual meeting in Morocco, our team fought mightily to ward off a package deal that the Obama administration and a few environmental and animal organizations supported. That deal would have lifted the global commercial whaling moratorium, and we were not going to let that happen. In large measure due to our effort, it didn’t, and this year, we were able to play a meaningful role in moving a true reform package along at the IWC.
Whaling, of course, has become just one of a series of threats to whales, and a variety of less direct but no less lethal hazards loom, including marine debris, toxic pollution, noise, ship strikes, entanglement, and climate change. One reason we’d like to see whaling by Iceland, Japan, and Norway end soon is that there is plenty of work left to do when it comes to protecting whales and other ocean-dwelling animals. The IWC Scientific Committee, in which we also play an active role, has already demonstrated the tremendous value of international cooperation and dissemination of knowledge and research for marine mammal protection, and we want to build upon this example. Through the IWC and other forums, we’ll continue to pursue a broad agenda of making our oceans safer and more humane for marine mammals and other creatures.