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Greenland and the IWC – what comes next?

The issue of whaling in Greenland is, of course, an emotive one. For those that do not wish to see any whales killed, they find it hard to understand why anyone would or could kill a whale in any circumstance. For the indigenous hunter in Greenland whose parents and grandparents have hunted whales for millennia, the fact that some may be criticizing their lifestyle is equally incomprehensible and can make them feel as if they and their whole way of life is under threat.

However one feels, the situation is not so black and white. WDC does feel strongly about the protection of whales and dolphins and believes that the emergent science with regard to the cultural transmission and social complexity in whales and dolphins means that we shall all have to re-evaluate our relationship with these remarkable creatures in the coming years.

The threat posed by chemical pollutants, especially those that bio-accumulate also means that consumers of whales and dolphins are also having to thinking long and hard about the future of their utilization of whales.

That said, WDC respects the fact that whilst the international community may have decided that commercial whaling is a pariah act, there remains huge sympathy for those who really need to rely on the hunting of whales and dolphins to fulfill their nutritional and cultural needs.

WDC, as can be seen on this website, works across the world with people of many cultures. WDC has been especially active in developing countries, where we have been working to help build capacity for local people to be able to take forward conservation initiatives.

But WDC is also not afraid to hold our own countries to account, having challenged the US and British Governments as well as the EU and Australian Government amongst just a few, on everything from bycatch to offshore oil and gas development.

I mention this as some in Greenland may think that WDC is dedicated only to campaigning on their whaling issues. That WDC has looked at this issue in considerable depth and worked wholeheartedly on the issue is only a reflection of the seriousness that we give to what we believe is the problem of mixing the normal Greenlandic request for whales at the IWC with the affecting the future of ASW and commercial whaling in the future.

And make no mistake, WDC believes that the IWC has to wrestle with the issue of ASW for the sake of the whales and for those that it decides should receive a whaling quota.

The IWC has long supported those applications where a genuine nutritional and cultural need has been demonstrated, but in most cases the IWC is dealing with applications from a nation state that has a minority indigenous population where the consumption of whale products is truly local.

As Greenland has developed as a nation its leaders have sought to define its identity and part of that is as an indigenous Inuit nation. This, of course, is simple when the vast majority of people are native born, but as immigration waxes and wanes, the definition of who is a Greenlander when it comes to the whaling issue for the IWC becomes more complex.

Do you calculate quotas on everyone who lives in Greenland, or only those who are native Inuit? Where do you draw the line if you are the IWC who must be careful not to set precedence when others are pushing for commercial whaling? Japan has made no secret that it is increasingly comparing its whaling to that of Greenland. 

WDC believes that the IWC has to wrestle with what is a very difficult issue, whilst at the same time trying to balance its regulatory responsibilities with respect to commercial whaling and ASW.

As noted before, in many communities that receive an ASW quota the whale meat does not enter into a commercial trade system. In Greenland as the population dynamics have shifted and more people have removed themselves more and more from the hunting lifestyle of their forefathers moving to the larger conurbations, how does the government ensure continued access to whale meat and products without introducing market mechanisms to move the whale meat around a huge country? This is a challenge and the Greenlandic Government appears to argue that they cannot stop whale meat becoming part of a market system, with economic development around whaling and whale meat being a crucial part of some peoples future.

Of course, this raises the issue of when is ASW only ASW and not a form of inchoate commercial whaling? Where does the IWC draw the line?

WDC believes that the IWC has to wrestle with this issue as a matter of urgency as the ambiguity that exists means that it is difficult to consider the active promotion of whale meat to tourists as we have seen this year in Greenland in any other light than an incipient commercial whaling?

Earlier this year WDC again offered the EU Commission’s chief negotiator and liaison to meet with Denmark and Greenland. WDC has made earlier offers, none of which have been taken up. WDC has continued to keep many IWC delegations informed of its work over the last few years and has published its work and opinions on our website for all to see; nothing has been hidden.

WDC stands ready to discuss this issue with all parties, but of course has to reserve the right to seek to influence the debate at the IWC by informing Commissioner’s and Parties of the facts that as we perceive them. As a small organisation we cannot hope to compete with the EU Commission or the Governments of Greenland and Denmark in communicating our views, but we have a responsibility to our supporters from all around the world to do so and try. 

We would remind the Greenland Government that WDC concerns are not isolated to Greenland, but to all ASW as regulated by the IWC. These are concerns that are shared with many Parties to the IWC.

WDC did not zero Greenland’s quota in 2012; this was the act of the IWC plenary, demonstrating that what WDC and others have highlighted are concerns that are shared by many.

That Greenland seeks to define its ASW differently to that of other ASW countries (asking for tonnage and not a number of whales; sales to tourists; counting all residents in calculating a quota etc.) means that this is a complication, and that as Greenland appears to push the boundaries of what is acceptable at the IWC as ASW, then the IWC shall continue to have concerns.

This is amply demonstrated by the fact that whilst Greenland received a quota at the 2014 meeting, it did not do so by consensus and this should be seen as an indication that Greenland has a lot of work to do to ensure that it will receive a quota again in 2018.

WDC remains committed to ensuring that the IWC addresses the issue of ASW. As the world moves forward, hopefully consigning commercial whaling to the 20th Century, WDC recognises that the IWC will continue to be a regulatory body for ASW and a champion for the general conservation of whales – both issues will become increasingly important. We stand by ready to discuss with all interested parties how the IWC should progress these issues.