One of my favorite memories is of being in Brighton, England, in June 1985 when the International Whaling Commission, after a struggle that lasted well over a decade, adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling, to last for at least five years. It has lasted for almost 24 years, but now seems in jeopardy of being fatally watered down.
Big decisions like the moratorium, and the setting of whale-killing quotas before its adoption, requires a three-to-one vote by the commission. The anti-whalers achieved that ratio by relentless public demonstrations by Greenpeace and many other groups, and by recruiting nonwhaling nations to join the commission to vote against the whalers.
Once the moratorium was adopted, some of the new members began to fade away and Japan went into the recruiting business itself, bringing in new members friendly to its position, to the point where the commission is unable to mount a three quarters majority for much of anything.
To make matters worse, Japan has routinely issued itself permits to conduct what it insists is "scientific" whaling, killing hundreds of whales each year, whales that wind up in supermarkets. The preponderance of whale scientists insist that the science that Japan claims to be doing could as well be done without killing the mighty beasts.
Now comes the distressing news that the U.S. commissioner, William Hogarth (a Bush appointee, surprise!) who happens also to be the chairman of the commission, is trying to strike a deal with Japan that would remove the fake mantle of scientific whaling and issue a straightforward quota for the killing of a set number of whales in the southern ocean (near Antarctica), plus whales that ply the waters off Japan’s coast. His argument is that the current situation is untenable. Resuming commercial whaling hardly seems like an attractive solution. Congressman Nick Rahall is urging the Obama administration to replace Dr. Hogarth.