Japan Aims to Overthrow 32-Year-Old Global Whaling Ban
Japan is proposing a slew of rule changes at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Florianópolis, Brazil this week that conservationists worry would ultimately lift a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.
Japan, which launched a "scientific whaling" program in 1987 as a loophole to the moratorium, has killed more than 15,600 whales in the Antarctic since the ban (including juvenile and pregnant minke whales), according to a report released last month by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI).
Previous reports have revealed that the Japanese government has an ultimate goal to resume commercial whaling, even though most of its citizens no longer eat whales. Whaling proponents say that hunting the mammals is part of their culture.
Hideki Moronuki, Japan's senior fisheries negotiator and commissioner for the IWC, told the BBC that the country is pushing for the "the sustainable use of whales."
Among its proposals, Japan wants to set up a "Sustainable Whaling Committee" which would create catch-quotas for nations wishing to allow their citizens to hunt healthy whale populations for commercial purposes, according to AFP.
Japan, which says minke and other whale stocks have recovered, will propose setting new catch quotas for species whose stocks are recognized as healthy by the IWC scientific committee.
Japan is also seeking to lower the proportion of votes required to set rule changes to a simple majority of the 89-member IWC, rather than three-quarters.
IWC meeting host Brazil is trying to rally other anti-whaling nations, such ads the European Union, Australia and New Zealand, to sign the "Florianópolis Declaration" that states commercial whaling is a no longer economically necessary and would allow the recovery of all whale populations to pre-industrial whaling levels, according to AFP.
Conservation groups have highlighted significant welfare concerns regarding "inhumane" time to death (TTD) rates after the whales are caught.
Whalers typically use an exploding harpoon to try to kill the animal "instantly"—defined by the IWC as within 10 seconds of being shot.
However, the report from EIA and AWI found that the hunted whales have suffered up to 25 minutes before dying:
- Iceland's TTD data in 2014 claimed that 42 died "instantly" while eight whales had to be shot a second time and their median TTD was eight minutes.
- Norway recently collected TTD data for 271 minke whales. The median TTD for the 49 whales not registered as instantaneous deaths was six minutes. One whale had to be shot twice, taking 20-25 minutes to die.
- Japan's minke whales taken in the offshore North Pacific hunt take an average of two minutes to die, while those in the coastal hunt take over five minutes. Antarctic minkes take an average of 1.8 minutes to die.
Whaling opponents are urging the IWC to reaffirm its international moratorium on commercial whaling.
"If Japan gets its way, it would be a massive victory for those rogue whalers who have time and again defied the international ban on commercial whaling and an absolute disaster for the world's whales," said Clare Perry, EIA's Ocean Campaigns leader in a statement received by EcoWatch.
"Many whale species have not yet recovered from massive overhunting in the past, and they are also facing a wide array of mounting existential threats ranging from climate change to marine pollution by chemicals, plastics and noise," Perry added.
Kate O'Connell, marine wildlife consultant for the Animal Welfare Institute had similar sentiments.
"We're only just beginning to grasp the vital role whales play in maintaining the health of the world's oceans," O'Connell said. "Weakening the ban now would be a fatal mistake, and would open the doors to increased commercial whaling around the world. This cruel and unnecessary industry is a relic of the past that has no place in modern society."
"All other contracting governments to the IWC must step up to vigorously defend the moratorium from this new assault by Japan and its allies," O'Connell concluded.
Japan Kills More Than 120 Pregnant Whales https://t.co/PI5eMQHDAH @SeaShepherd @Oceanwire @savingoceans— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1527638705.0
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One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.