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We're at COP28 to Save the Whale, Save the World.

We’re at COP28 to save the whale, save the world

Ed Goodall Ed is WDC's head of intergovernmental engagement. He meets with world leaders to...
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Vicki James Vicki is WDC's protected areas coordinator, she helps to create safe ocean spaces...
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Amazon river dolphins. Image: Fernando Trujillo/Fundacion Omacha

Amazon tragedy as endangered river dolphins die in hot water

Ali Wood Ali is WDC's education projects coordinator. She is the editor of Splash! and KIDZONE,...
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WDC in Japan – Part 3: Restoring freedom to dolphins in South Korea

Katrin Matthes Katrin is WDC's communications and campaigns officer for policy & communication in Germany...
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Seeking sanctuary – Iceland’s complex relationship with whales

Hayley Flanagan Hayley is WDC's engagement officer, specialising in creating brilliant content for our website...
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Luke McMillan Luke is WDC's Head of hunting and captivity. Now that the 2023 whaling season...

Day Three (afternoon) of IWC 2016

Agenda Item 10 Cetacean Habitat

10.1 State of Cetacean Environment (SOCER)

The Chair of the IWC Scientific Committee, Caterina, highlights elements of the Franciscana Action Plan.

The Committee recommends that the stabilisation of the Brazilian dam is urgent and highlighted the critical need to adopt knowledge from disasters, such as deep–water accidents and to share best practice.

In 2016, IWC Scientific Committee looked at the Arctic and in 2017, will be looking at South East Asia.

10.2 Ecosystem modelling

This section examines the ecological relationships between whales and the ecosystem

  • Reviewing modelling outside IWC (strong relationship with CCAMLR)
  • Exploring how such models can be used to test the RMP
  • Reviewing other issues relevant to modelling ecosystem systems

 10.3 Arctic Ocean

Greg Donovan (IWC’s Head of Science) speaks after attending the meeting of the Arctic Council earlier this year. He notes that the IWC presented on human disturbance in Arctic, and looked at points of overlap and areas for cooperation. Climate change, oil and gas exploration and ASW are all areas of potential interest.


Greg sees real benefit in continuing to exchange information and co-operation.

10.4 Climate Change

(Summary can be found in 13.7 of IWC Sci Comm report.) The IWC is looking to work with other bodies such as CBS, CMS and IUCN working on this issue.

Agreement to focus on actions that support its work and the Commission:

  • Riverine small cetaceans
  • Arctic large whales
  • Links with IGOs

Lorenzo, Chair of the Conservation Committee, notes this also is in the strategic plan of Conservation Committee.

USA notes that 2015 was the warmest period on record with Arctic warming twice as fast with less ice cover and retreating ice, having increased impacts on whales and ASW communities and is, therefore, of particular importance.

India notes that all cetaceans have the highest level of protection under Indian law. India is working with UNDP to address climate change on wildlife, especially on the east coast of India riverine areas and west coast, with conservation efforts focused on cetaceans. 

10.5 Decadal Review of Southern Ocean Sanctuary (SOS)

Chair notes that this is to be found at item 19.2 (p30-31) of Sci Comm. report and has been reported to the Conservation Committee.  The Committee believes the SOS contributes positively to mitigating climate change.

Australia welcomes the review of both committees and notes the positive response and the substantial body of research undertaken.

New Zealand endorses the comments of Australia and thanks both Chairs. It also supports the creation of a management plan for SOS, and a holistic approach to further developing the Sanctuary.

Japan appreciates the Sci Comm report [Ed. does not mention the Conservation Committee] but addresses page 113-15 of the report, stating that it is not possible to fully evaluate the projects within the sanctuary designation. Japan states that, as in 2014, there are a series of recommendations, but not many of these have been addressed and Japan would like to see these addressed in coming years.

Brazil: acknowledges the impact of the 2015 dam incident referenced by the Chair. Confirmed that it is doing what it can to monitor short, medium and long-term impacts. The company responsible, San Marco, was legally penalised by the courts, and EFA is implementing measures to address the issue and shall report at next IWC Scientific Committee meeting. Welcomes the call for sharing of best practice for dealing with the aftermath of such disasters.

Recommendations adopted from both committees.

Agenda item 11: Unintended Anthropogenic Impacts

11.1 Pollution 2000+ The Chair of the Scientific Committee reports that Pollution 2000+ continued to develop model and an online visualisation and mapping portal on contaminants in cetacean species across the world.

There was a considerable focus of effort looking at the Deep-Water Horizon oil spill. Oil and dispersants have a substantial health impact on cetaceans. Recommendations on risk mitigation and adaptive management framework are needed. Regarding oil spills, the take-home message is that avoidance is best [Ed. yes, yes, yes] and recommended baseline data collection. 

11.2 Marine Debris

Lorenzo notes that the Conservation Committee is working closely with other organisations, with a focus on plastics and microplastics as detailed in IWC66/04.  Parties encouraged engagement with the global ‘ghost gear’ initiative (Note: ‘ghost gear’ is the term given to lost or abandoned fishing gear, which poses a threat to cetaceans).

USA thanks the Conservation Committee Chair and encourages the global ghost gear initiative.

Austria welcomes the report on whale disentanglement and also applauds the global ghost gear initiative.

Mexico reports that it is working with the USA and WWF on removing ghost nets. 

World Animal Protection (WAP) discussed NGO cooperation and their developing of the GGI to brings sectors together. The GGI is working with Australian Government to establish a portal to highlight ghost gear hotspots and encourages coordination between member states. 

11.3 Cetacean Bycatch

Lorenzo announces that Mark Simmonds is to act as interim coordinator. The Meeting endorses this role and the establishment of an expert panel. [Ed. Congratulations to Humane Society International’s Mark Simmonds for taking on this role and getting this initiative up and running in the IWC]

UK welcomes action on bycatch, speaking in support of Mark’s role.

USA notes that in August, the US introduced legislation that requires compliance with domestic bycatch regulation on all imports.

Argentina and Mexico both speak. 

New Zealand: “We support the establishment of the IWC bycatch initiative, we would like to see it based on the same model as the whale disentanglement initiative. We’re pleased to see it focussed on assessing the scale of bycatch, and developing and communicating mitigation methods. “

NGO: WWF [on behalf of other NGOs].  “Bycatch has long been acknowledged as the most pervasive human-induced threat to cetaceans .. a leading factor in the extinction of the Yangtse river dolphin .. and has driven the vaquita to near extinction. This is a truly global issue and requires nothing less than a global response. IWC is uniquely placed to lead this global response… it is important to note that other organisations have deferred to the IWC as the appropriate body to address cetacean conservation so it is incumbent on the IWC to spearhead efforts on the prevention and mitigation of cetacean bycatch or it will continue to fall between the cracks… today we can make that start… this initiative should be supported through core funds of IWC. [NGO donation]

11.4 Anthropogenic sound

Caterina (Item 13.6 p17-18). The Committee agreed with compelling evidence of noise affecting the acoustic environment for cetaceans in many regions… this can adversely affect some cetacean populations .. the lack of certainty should not hinder management action…it is recommended the Commission sends a paper to the IMO Protection Committee with an update on recent information on the extent and impact upon cetaceans of underwater noise from shipping.

Lorenzo notes that this topic was included in the strategic plan endorsed at this meeting.

11.5 Ship Strikes

Lorenzo: states that the draft strategic plan defines high-risk areas, outlines strategies to reduce ship strikes and advocates a staged approach to mitigation measures… this strategic plan was delayed, but members of the Working Group, Scientific Committee and Secretariat are working together to get this back on track. Hope to finalise by 30th November this year.

Brazil: noted that whilst the number of reported ship strikes off Brazil is negligible, Brazil recognises the importance of reporting measures.. and intends to host a workshop in 2017, with the aim of enhancing regional collaboration on this issue.

Netherlands (for the EU) Flags up the importance of research and sound science.

Belgium: Agrees with the Netherlands and applauds the IWC bycatch initiative and thanks Mark Simmonds for offering to take over as interim coordinator of the bycatch Working Group. Also commends the work of both the Scientific and Conservation Committees on ship strikes and encourages everyone to help populate the ship strike database.

On Sept 19th, Belgium launched a network of stakeholders (from industry, NGOs etc) to share their knowledge and experience on whales and dolphins inform Belgium’s policymakers.

Belgium raises the issue of cetaceans as “ecosystem engineers, delivering a variety of ‘services’, thus increasing the health and resilience of ecosystems.. they even contribute to slowing down climate change effects. Belgium says: “We need to start thinking differently about cetaceans – they are important for all of us, ecologically, they are our partners instead of our competitors. Conserving them is helping us save ourselves.”

[Ed. Thank you Belgium for that enlightened intervention]

Agenda Item 12. The IWC in the future

[Ed: now comes a discussion we should all pay attention to. This is Japan setting out the next stage in its strategy to achieve commercial whaling. If you remember, Japan recently failed to trap the conservation countries into a trap of using the IWC website to demonstrate what Japan regards as the ‘dysfunctional’ nature of the IWC – what that means is that it continues to fail to convince others of its arguments – but let’s see what it is proposing]

Japan takes to the floor and calls for intersessional meeting on STCW and the future of IWC.

Japan states that it wants to use the website of IWC website and email, to exchange views. Japan believes the process should be transparent. 

[Ed. Yes, this is the same Japan that was complaining about the pesky ‘public’ having influence on what governments do] Japan offers to create terms of reference for the process and for the website discussion]

Japan believes participation should be open to Members of the IWC [Ed. No NGOs?]

But, Japan believes, to avoid an open-ended discussion, there should be a set of questions set out on the website to be answered by all.

Japan offers to put forward a paper to suggest the way forward on discussions on the future of the IWC and would welcome suggestions on an initial set of questions.

Australia says that they shall await the Japanese paper with interest before responding, but notes that how we characterise this process is important. “I imagine all members may have different views of future, but if Japan wants to ask questions, then this has to be in appropriate context”. Australia goes on to note that an open website is difficult to manage and “we need to understand what is intended.”

Japan responds saying, yes, we shall prepare a paper, but views would be useful in framing it

On the question of the scope of the questions, Japan says “May I remind members some of the major questions I raised again this morning, and whether there are fundamental questions and positions in members’ positions here. Are there any mutually beneficial items that could be discussed? “

South Africa responds saying “It’s difficult to discuss whilst we still have Article VIII whaling taking place and we have continued reluctance from some members to discuss small cetaceans.”

Therefore, South Africa feels that these two questions should be included in any such discussions.

Netherlands (for the EU), states that, as Australia, “we need more detail so we are better able to contribute”.

Japan says South Africa embodies and  highlights the problems faced by IWC, namely that the current discussions dictate the debate, and if only Parties were willing to drop such criticisms, maybe progress would be made

Japan describes it as an “egg and chicken situation”, so wishes to avoid substantive discussion, and only talk about feelings on the contentious issues. Japan feels that the value of the proposal is to change the paradigm of proposals and avoid discussion

[Ed. This is a classic negotiating technique. Avoid the issues that you can’t agree on and try and create some common ground that allows parties involved to feel that compromise is possible. For Japan, if conservation countries do say that they are fundamentally opposed to whaling full stop, then Japan gets to say it’s a stacked deck].

Agenda Item 13 Whale Killing methods and Welfare Issues

The Chair reports that this group was well attended, showing the importance the world attaches to these issues.

13.1 Summary of data provided on whales killed 

The committee received reports from seven governments: Denmark, Norway Russia, St Vincent, New Zealand, UK, and the USA.  (NB The UK and NZ had reported on euthanasia of stranded whales before anyone gets concerned that they had returned to whaling!)

Reports submitted detailed times to death and species killed, amongst other information.

Reports on euthanasia of stranded cetacean workshop (doc no 4). The UK reported on progress on implementation on 16 recommendations, examining different techniques.

13.2 Improving the humaneness of whaling operations

This is a response to previous IWC resolutions.

Three contracting governments: Denmark (referring to previous improvements), the USA (on success of penthrite modifications including how changing conditions in Alaska are proving difficult), and Norway, who reported slight improvements on the 2012 report.

13.2.2 Report on  the 2015 NAMMCO Expert Working Group

Canada, Norway, Russian Federation, Iceland, and Japan all submitted reports to NAMMCO; on instantaneous death rate, they highlighted claims that these had improved to 82% in harpoon hunting of minke whales, while TTD (time so death) had improved to 1 minute.

NAMMCO expert group recommended monitoring at ten-year intervals or shorter, as necessary.

The NAMMCO report spoke of a cooperative atmosphere between both organisations and the need to avoid duplication of efforts and welcomed IWC’s work on entanglements. 

Russia spoke about the cost of weapons, Denmark talked of incentives for the use of penthrite. Denmark further reported doubling of the use of rifle and increases in times to death. It was noted that the Japanese use of the steel rod was discussed.

The Chair reports that, in discussing this report that some IWC members expressed the wish that data should also be presented to IWC.

[Ed. Of course, the whalers don’t like submitting to the IWC, as they claim the IWC does not have competency and they don’t like getting criticised for some appalling welfare issues associated with whaling]

Australia thanks the Chair and welcomes the excellent work of a Norwegian vet in helping ASW hunters. They state that this demonstrates that this group can deal with information in a professional manner, and whilst useful to review NAMMCO data, the same data should be submitted for consideration directly to the  IWC.

Russian Federation thanks Michael (The Chair) and notes it submits data voluntarily, and each year, the time between first strike and death reduces.

“We have to understand modern technology is expensive and wish to thank the Alaskan whaling Commission that provides assistance to Russian hunters.”

“We observe that the number of coastal villages and hunting communities increases too. We are having to train new hunters who have lost experience. We thank the Netherlands Government for money to train hunters and exchange knowledge between hunters.”

[Ed. Stand by for increased request from Russia in 2018

Russian Federation goes on to note that “We have to first pay attention to modernising to economic costs and safety of hunters. The Chukotka hunters use traditional techniques to hunt aggressive grey whales, which was once called the ‘devil fish’.”

Russia also comments that there are limits to improving TTD rates, but the first priority is the safety of the hunters.

NAMMCO points out the positive development on animal welfare issues over the last thirty-five years. Also, points out the possibilities for cooperation between the two organisations. States that both organisations have the same overall goals, but recognises that the rationale is different, as “a majority of IWC members pursue healthy marine mammals as a goal in itself, whilst we want to use them” and this is why they do not submit TTD rate data to the IWC.

Alaskan Whaling Commission notes that they continue to improve their whaling equipment and their effectiveness, despite ecosystem changes and increased vessel traffic, due in part to better training, and recovery of struck whales, and also more recently the use of penthrite grenades, replacing black powder. However, ackowledge limited funding and limited testing, and therefore some concerns regarding the safety of hunters who are ‘on the whale’ when using the darting gun.“We continue to improve the darting gun and we see more interest from the hunters.”

Item 13.3 Whale Welfare

13.3.1 Report on IWC workshop on non-hunting aspects of cetacean welfare

This was held in Kruger National Park, South Africa, to facilitate discussion, and to synthesise current knowledge. The meeting agreed to prioritise role of IWC on this issues and facilitate IWC being able to give advice to others. Animal welfare is an increasingly important area of science. The framework of five domains model was discussed. 

Entanglement in fishing gear was seen as a significant welfare concern and the meeting reiterated the need for global entanglement database and response mechanisms. 

The group thanked the UK for convening the workshop and endorsed the creation of intercessional action plan, with agreed TORs, including, 

  • Supporting implementation of IWC action plan
  • Regular timetable of workshops 

13.3.2 Engagement of others experts and organisations

The UK was pleased to report on the second highly successful meeting in South Africa, which focussed on the welfare aspects of strandings. (The first meeting focussed on how to describe and measure non-hunting aspects of welfare issue.)

Both meetings benefited from the input of civil society working with governments. Welfare considerations are new to IWC, but are critical to many of the topics IWC deals with.

The report noted that the ‘five domains’ model is very useful to modify for IWC use. Future recommendations were made on adapting the model for use, including how to incorporate cumulative and combined threats. 

The UK notes that it is happy to progress work intersessionally as a working group and will gather animal welfare specialists to assist progress. The goal will be to produce a tool for endorsement at IWC67. The UK is donating £15,000 to continue development of the welfare action plan

EU welcomes the positive outcomes of the workshops as an important step to understanding non-hunting welfare issues and looks forward to further development of assessment tool. 

NZ would like all member states to submit TTD data to the IWC. On the issue of strandings, NZ notes that it has had over 5,000 strandings over last century or so. NZ is pleased to support the strandings workshop and thanks the UK for its further support.

USA thanks South Africa and the UK and supports outputs of workshop

Argentina welcomes report and supports the recommendations moving forward

NGO intervention: Humane Society International’s Clare Bass speaks on behalf of the NGOs, including WDC, welcomes the workshop report and contributes financial support for the next steps, stressing that “the use of exploding projectiles to achieve meat for commercial sale should not be accepted. On the 30th anniversary of the moratorium, we celebrate the fact that hundreds of thousands of individual animals have been spared this suffering” 

13.4 Entanglement and welfare issues of large whales

A 2015 workshop reviewed work between 2012-14. Many countries stressed that effort should be committed to avoid entanglements in the first place. Feedback was provided on the IWC and NOAA workshop on entanglements, and it was noted that, whilst this workshop focussed on large whales, work on this issue as regards small cetaceans is also needed. 

A hierarchy of action was suggested:

  1. Avoid entanglements in the first place
  2. Reduce entanglements
  3. Minimise mortality when stranding occurs

However, it was also recognised that on many occasions, local solutions are required to solve specific local circumstances.

Seven recommendations were made, including calling for recognition of strandings as a threat; better monitoring, and greater cooperation with NGOs, IGOs and fishery sectors.  The necessity of data gathering and sharing was also stressed, as well as the use of gear marking. It was further reported that David Matilla provided 14 entanglement training schemes in ‘training the trainer’.

Brazil welcomes the workshops and noted that it has hosted two training sessions for right whales in Santa Catarina. 

Monaco salutes the great work in this area. “We know this affects lots of top predators and much goes unreported as much is unseen.” Welcomes cooperation between fishermen, scientists and IWC. 

Chairman of IWC notes that this is a major success for the IWC.

13.5 Strandings Response 

We need to build capacity for stranding response and make IWC the body to provide practical advice. A number of recommendations are included in Appendix 7. 

Cooperation of IGO, Members and NGOs is critical, as well as media help in ensuring that the public understands safety issues. 

13.5.2 Scientific committee recommendations include building capacity and collecting stranding data

Argentina speaks to the importance of these issues and supports the Working Group report.

UK notes that the workshop on welfare also addressed strandings and reviewed case studies, specifically: how to avoid strandings; how to address them; the special nature of mass strandings; health and safety, and how to handle media and public attention.

UK welcomes the fact that the IWC has recommended that a coordinator should be appointed.

ASCOBANS spoke to its recent adoption of Resolution 8.10 on strandings at the recent CoP  and welcomes the establishment of best practice

India believes more work needs to be done under the continuing moratorium [which] should address all threats to cetaceans.

IFAW speaks on behalf of NGOs, including WDC, urging more cooperation via the IWC.

“My name is Sharon Livermore from the International Fund for Animal Welfare and I speak on behalf of a number of NGOs, the full written list of which I will provide to the Secretariat with this statement.

Strandings of cetaceans both alive and dead occur all across the world. Live stranded animals can suffer greatly, sometimes taking long periods of time to die and sometimes well-meaning rescue attempts can even make the situation worse.

While there are some outstanding examples of responses to whale and dolphin strandings by governments, strandings networks and NGOs,  all countries also face challenges in responding and all can gain from the development of best practice.  

As the leading global body for cetacean conservation and science, the IWC can help with these situations. We have received recommendations from the Scientific Committee to establish a standings coordinator and expert advisory panel and we should try to do this. We also endorse the recommendations of the recent workshops on strandings, which recognised a clear role for the IWC in providing a framework that countries can adapt for their national circumstances and building capacity through the development of toolkits and protocols. 

The very successful model provided by the IWC’s excellent work on large whale disentanglement is something we can learn from and we should seek to share expertise and develop something similar for strandings.  

Finally, we also note that the proposed strandings work is currently unfunded. We urge the Commission to mainstream this work into its practices and budgets.

The meeting concludes with a discussion of who should be the next Chair for this working group. Michael thanks the UK, Simon and rapporteurs and the two Sarah’s of the Secretariat, and the meeting congratulated Michael for his work. 

Agenda item was closed.

The IWC Chair then requested progress on drafting groups.

Japan says it is happy to inform that it has received a draft text on the Resolution on Limited Means from the EU and intends to resume the drafting group now. 

USA reports ‘Effectiveness’ drafting group will have revised text by this evening. The USA also reports that the Vaquita resolution will have new text by tomorrow for review.

Australia reports that the Special Permit resolution will be submitted before six this evening and so can reopen tomorrow morning. Drafting group included NGOs and parties, some of whom  may not agree with the final resolution, but did participate, and Australia was grateful for cooperation. 

Meeting closed until 09:00 tomorrow. If you got this far, thanks for reading and goodnight for now 🙂