A win for the whales

despite huge corruption at whaling commission

by Rod Marining

humback and calf

A psychic message had gone out to all eco-warriors who had ever fought for whales: “Get your body over to Agadir, Morocco, now!” As we say on the Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace ships, “All hands on deck!”

So there I was at the 62nd Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (June 21-25), walking through loads of security into a room where the fate of the great whales would be decided for one more year. There were 88 representatives from various countries – people who would make the ultimate decisions – and more than 240 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Everyone was very nervous and there was no clear indication of the fate of the whales, one way or the other. There were powerful forces at play, both good and evil.

Sex was one of the forces working against the whales. Flights, Girls and Cash Buy Japan Whaling Votes read a Sunday Times headline on June 13. A stack of Xeroxed copies of the article sat on the NGO media table and I picked one up. The jokey comments included, “Hookers for harpoons? ‘What do you mean?’ asks the diplomat. ‘You give me harpoons to kill the whales with your vote and I give you hookers, really “good girls” for you. What do you say? We have a deal?’”

It is common knowledge among enviros that a huge block of small nations –surrogates as they are called – have been bought off by the Japanese foreign affairs department and the Sunday Times article provided definitive proof of the corruption. Journalists with hidden cameras and micro-phones had set up a sting operation, posing as anti-whaling lobbyists with very deep pockets, wanting to buy votes.

The Times piece accused Japan of systematically bribing nations with sex, aid, cash and flights in return for their vote to overturn the 1982 ban on commercial whaling and end the hard won Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary – two huge environmental milestones in the battle to save the last of the whales. The journalists spoke extensively to officials from St. Kitts, Nevis Island, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Guinea, offering multi-million pound aid packages if they stopped supporting Japan at the IWC.

For example, within the last two years, Japan had given Tanzania the sum of $88 million pounds (about $160 million Canadian) in fisheries aid. Five Tanzanian government officials at the IWC were given $22,000 pounds for tuition fees and living expenses while they studied in Japan – that’s more than $40,000 Canadian per year times five officials – to get their fisheries degree at a Japanese university.

A Tanzanian official revealed that Japan “secretively” paid for the tickets and hotels for the IWC delegates from different countries. They were also taken on all-expenses-paid visits to Japan where “good girls” would be available.

The Sunday Times reporter asked the Tanzanian official, “So you think the other countries’ representatives are set up with prostitutes from Japan?” The official answered, “Yes, you know, yeah… it starts by… ‘You want massaging? It’s going to be free massaging. Are you lonely? You don’t want any comfort?’”

Both the Associated Press and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have previously aired stories in which Japanese officials have stated there is nothing wrong with using overseas development aid to buy votes. However, this is the first time prostitution and cash payments have been added to the list of bribes.

I learned the present Chair of the IWC has also received money from the Japanese. The Chair actually confirmed his flights and hotel were paid for by them, yet the NGOs would not call for his resignation. I noted to the NGO that this Chair was obviously in a compromised position and that he controlled the entire conference. When I asked why they would not ask for his resignation, the answer was, “It is better to know the devil you know than to get a new devil that you don’t know.”

After only two hours on Monday morning, the Chair stated, “We are now breaking into secret sessions to discuss the consensus proposal and we will be adjourning to Wednesday morning.”

The consensus proposal called for the approval of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and other places at a fixed limit of about 1,300 whales per year for 10 years – a harvest of 13,000 whales. A whaling phase-down would follow, (not a phase-out). In other words, kill whales now for 10 years, in the hope that after 10 years we would start saving whales. Kill whales to save whales, sort of like fighting for peace. All this was happening behind closed doors with media and NGOs waiting for the verdict.

On Wednesday morning, it was clear the “deal” was dead. Chairman Livingstone, in his opening remarks, which reviewed the 10 intercessional meetings held since the Commission met in Alaska three years ago, as well as the work completed over the last two days, quickly revealed that many differences between parties remained unsettled, trade and “scientific” whaling among them. The process had been useful in that exchanges had been cordial and frank, but no consensus had been reached. Japan led off the commentary, saying it was willing to compromise to some extent, but unwilling to commit to zero after 10 years of legal whaling in the Antarctic.

On the edge of the Sahara Desert, the great whales were given one more year of reprieve. Japan is again in the position of violating the ban on commercial whaling and killing whales within the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. The Japanese state they are killing whales for scientific purposes, yet not one peer review scientific paper has been published. Furthermore, they have never answered the question why it is necessary for them to kill whales for research when the world’s scientific community has been employing non-lethal DNA research for more than 20 years.

Despite an international moratorium on commercial whaling established in 1982 and a huge whale sanctuary surrounding Antarctica, roughly 2,000 whales are killed each year, including endangered and vulnerable species. More than 35,000 whales have been killed since the moratorium began.

Australia is preparing its court case against Japan in the International World Court in The Hague, for whaling within a sanctuary and selling their whale meat. If it wins, it will have the moral right to slap tariffs on Japan. Japan may have a bigger navy than Australia, but Japan’s economy is on the ropes; the prime minister likens Japan’s economy to Greece. A trade war would definitely increase the cost to defend Japanese whaling to a $2 billion+ enterprise. Economics will play a significant role in abolishing whaling industry.

I hope the United Nations creates a navy to enforce the many laws in place for the protection of the great oceans. There is also a need to enforce governance issues, such as buying votes. Diplomats should fear jail sentences in cases of bribery. The IWC, in order to maintain credibility with the world, must investigate and take action to stop such blatant usurpation of the Commission’s integrity.

As for the age-old question of whether or not mankind is an instrument for good or evil, a real battle ensued at the IWC and the profoundest changes took place within a short time frame. Yes, we beat back what amounted to a ridiculous proposal to legalize commercial whaling. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 dolphins and porpoises and 2,000 large whales are slaughtered every year. Many other eco-battles lie ahead and I hope that all good people step forward and take an active role in saving our natural world from greed.

Let’s make mankind an instrument for good. There was a real battle here, where profound changes took place within a reduced time frame. Whales are a symbol of life on this planet. If we save the whales we save the humans. Fortunately the good side has won for now. Lets keep it that way. Get involved.

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Rod Marining is a co-founder of Greenpeace International. He has sailed into nuclear test zones and has disrupted Antarctic whaling on the Sea Shepherd.

The Second Asia Pacific Coral Reef Symposium, over five days on Phuket.

Delegates on Phuket hear all about the state of the region's coral  reefs

Delegates on Phuket hear all about the state of the region’s coral reefs

Photo by phuuketwan.com

Phuket’s Reefs Gain from Gathering of Experts

Sunday, June 20, 2010

PHUKET’S coral reefs will gain invaluable help this week from 450 experts taking part in the Second Asia Pacific Coral Reef Symposium, over five days on Phuket.

On Tuesday, many of them will dive off the reefs themselves, before returning to talk more about the problems that are assailing coral reefs throughout the region.

Phuket Vice Governor Treerayut Eamtakul said today that with so many difficulties to be surmounted to protect the Andaman’s coral reefs for the future, it was timely and useful to have experts from 35 countries offering up their ideas.

The symposium is being held at Royal Phuket City Hotel until Thursday, with the dive trips and mini-symposiums occupying the experts’ time. ”Phuket will be delighted to hear what these experts can tell us,” the vice governor said.

It’s only the second symposium of its kind – the first was held four years ago in Hong Kong. Associated Professor Put O. Ang jr of the Marine Science Laboratory at the Chinese University of Hong Kong told Phuketwan today that the South China Sea and surrounding area was the richest in the world for coral reefs, marine creatures and plants.

But it was a struggle to ward off destructive fishing methods, sedimentation and deforestation, which were responsible for a general deterioration of the marine environment.

”Eventually this affects the livelihood of people who depend on the reefs,” he said. Bleaching caused by the extra heat of global climate change is the latest challenge. ”If the corals die, the whole system will collapse,” he said.

Dr Thamasak Yeemin, chair of the symposium organising committee and a Professor at Ramkhamhaeng University, said some 40 to 50 percent of Thailand’s coral reefs had been affected by bleaching.

”We can’t control the temperature of the water but we can control the number of divers,” he said. ”Other effects from run-off and fishing can also be managed,” he said.

Quality of the coral reefs was the key, he said. ”The reefs are vital for the tourism industry, on Phuket and around the world,” he added.

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Expedition launch: Arctic Under Pressure

Greenpeace heads to Arctic to investigate urgent ocean threats

We are returning to the Arctic Ocean with our ship the Esperanza this month to reinforce the urgent need to protect one of the most pristine and fragile environments on Earth.


Our ship departs soon from Germany zoom

Our ship departs soon from Germany The Esperanza will arrive in the Arctic waters of Svalbard later this month.

The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet. As the sea ice vanishes, the fragile marine ecosystem is becoming disrupted and fishing fleets are racing northwards to exploit previously unreachable stocks. At the same time, increasing carbon dioxide levels from fossil fuels and forest destruction are changing the chemistry of our oceans and creating a severe threat to marine life.

The acid test

Our ship, Esperanza, and its crew are joining leading scientists to investigate the change in marine chemistry – called ‘ocean acidification’ as part of our ‘Arctic Under Pressure Expedition’. Although this is a lesser known impact of carbon dioxide (CO2), it has the potential to disrupt our oceans just as much as climate change. The effects of ocean acidification are expected to hit first and hardest in the Arctic, but pose a serious threat to all ocean life, which is already struggling with climate change, over-fishing and pollution.

Each year, our oceans absorb around 8 billion tonnes of the CO2 produced by the use of fossil fuels. The change in ocean chemistry is already evident and causing problems for shell-building sea creatures. But, as the situation worsens, it could cause the breakdown of marine ecosystems and affect the overall ocean health. The survival of corals, plankton and other critical sea life is severely threatened. If CO2 emissions continue to rise at projected rates, there could be a 120 percent increase in ocean acidity by 2060. Ocean chemistry probably hasn’t changed this much, or this quickly, for 21 million years.

In the first experiment of its kind, we are supporting the German marine research institute IFM-GEOMAR (Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences) to study the effects of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems. The ‘Esperanza’ is taking scientists and over 30 tonnes of scientific equipment, including nine giant marine monitoring systems called ‘mesocosms’, to the Svalbard islands in the Arctic. Scientists from nine countries will be taking part in this research, which is the most comprehensive study on ocean acidification to date. It will highlight yet another scientific reason why we must make deep and urgent cuts in global CO2 emissions.

Under pressure


Thinning ice zoom

Thinning ice Prof. Peter Wadhams and his team study Arctic ice thickness in 2009 – with the Greenpeace ship, Arctic Sunrise.

Throughout the northern hemisphere summer, our ‘Arctic Under Pressure Expedition’ will also expose and document the other serious threats to the Arctic Ocean. The melting of sea ice and the expansion of fishing industries into this region are endangering the pristine Arctic environment and unique wildlife. In attempting to secure ‘rights’ to Arctic fisheries, new transport routes, oil, gas and mineral resources, countries gain a vested interest in the continued melting of the Arctic. But, the more coal, oil and gas we burn, the faster the Arctic melts and the closer our planet comes to catastrophic climate change.
Professor Peter Wadhams, head of Cambridge University’s Polar Ocean Physics Group, will join the ‘Esperanza’ in August to investigate the thickness of the ice and its melting rate, following on from his 2009 Arctic work with Greenpeace.

Polar protection

The Arctic Ocean deserves full protection as a marine reserve and we are calling for a moratorium on all industrial activities there – including fishing. In 1991, after a long Greenpeace campaign, the 39 Antarctic Treaty signatories agreed to a 50-year minimum prohibition of all mineral exploitation, in effect preserving the continent for peaceful, scientific purposes. This serves as an example of how Arctic territorial issues should be handled.

The Antarctic is a landmass surrounded by oceans, the Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land, but the polar regions still have a lot in common. Both are incredibly fragile and susceptible to human activities. Both are part of the global commons and should be protected in perpetuity. Both are relatively untouched and should stay that way.

Don’t let it melt away


Quit coal zoom

Quit coal Carbon emissions from coal are destroying polar bear habitat.

We’re also calling on governments to quit coal and spark an energy [r]evolution in order to reduce our carbon dioxide emmissions so that we can avoid the worst effects of climate change and save the Arctic together with all of its amazing wildlife, including polar bears and ringed seals. Governments need to realise the impacts of each new coal fired power plant they approve, and we’ll be in the Arctic for the next three months to show them.

Take Action: Help protect the polar bears — join the call for a global network of marine reserves that includes a fully protected Arctic Ocean
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Read more about Arctic threats
Check out the webcam on the Esperanza