For someone who’s been supporting the protection of whales as long as I have, the prospect of a return to commercial whaling is a genuine nightmare. But that’s what Japan has proposed to this year’s meeting of the International Whaling Commission, set to begin next week in Florianopolis, Brazil. And that’s why we’ve sent a strong and capable Humane Society International delegation there, to hold the line and make the case for maintaining the global moratorium on commercial whaling adopted by the IWC in 1982. Our team includes staff members from four continents, with combined expertise in science, policy, treaty law, communications and campaigns. When it comes to speaking up for whales, we take a back seat to no one.
In a quarter century with the Humane Society of the United States and HSI, I’ve worked on a lot of animal protection issues. But the plight of whales is one that has really captured my heart. As a child in a coastal town in Massachusetts, I grew up with the campaign to protect them.
The week before I attended my first IWC meeting in 1998, my mother sent me my fifth-grade book report on the topic of whales. In the first few pages, I covered facts about diet and other information, but then I launched into a 10-year-old girl’s rant about whales being killed by the thousands and how it had to stop.
This was back in 1975, before the moratorium, when Japan and the other whaling nations were killing more than 35,000 whales a year. Those were dark times, but already there were animal protection and conservation groups working to turn things around. And I was going to join their ranks.
I’ve now spent two decades at the forefront of efforts to help the IWC evolve and adapt to a new norm of global support for the idea of protecting whales from whaling and from other threats. That commitment has brought me together with hundreds of good people, and dozens of country delegations and organizations, at the meetings of the IWC and other bodies, all focused on two great goals: to eliminate commercial whaling by all nations and to ensure a future for all cetacean species on earth.
Commercial whaling now just takes place in three countries — Iceland, Japan and Norway. I recently traveled to Iceland and went on a whale-watching tour. The guide was informative and effusive about the majestic whales in his country’s waters. He kept all of us on the boat riveted by his talk. Later, as we were returning to shore, he pointed to a large vessel, leaving from another port, and told us that this one was heading out to kill fin whales.
Two boats, two ports and two divergent paths. But only one of them was heading in the right direction, and I was glad to be on board.
The circumstances vary from year to year, but every meeting of the IWC involves the defense of the global moratorium against challenges of one kind or another. I had no idea how things would turn out for whales when I joined this iconic struggle for nature and animal life as a young girl. But in my adult life, and my professional career, I’ve witnessed the extraordinary gains. The moratorium has dramatically reduced the death tolls of whaling, even as more and more people around the world have come to see and appreciate the beauty, the value and the wonder of whales.
But the whales still need protection from the outliers pushing for commercial whaling, and the voting bloc that’s blindly supporting them, and that’s why our voice at the whaling conference next week will be so crucial. It’s a good fight, it’s one to which we’re fully committed, and it’s one I hope you too will pledge to support.