At the 68th International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia, Sharada Balasubramanian spoke to Sandra Altherr from German-based not for profit organization, Pro Wildlife.
What exactly is your expectation from this conference? From what you observed in the last few days, how much of it is going to really benefit the conservation of whales and cetaceans?
I must say, I expected it. But now seeing it, it's disappointing that very important issues are not even raised. We don't even talk about commercial whaling of Iceland, Japan and Norway. And also other issues like hunting of small cetaceans. They are overlooked here, because everyone is kind of tranquillized, and doesn't want to go into controversial debates because of the budget and the reform of the IWC. I mean, these are important issues, but it shouldn't take us to a position where we are quiet on other things.
Coming from a developing country, I see the participation of developing countries to be very skewed compared to developed nations. And their voices are also missing. Countries do not have funds to attend this meeting. So how do we ensure that there is more democratic and participatory decision making?
Yes, but we need a system. By that, I mean, the problem at the moment is that the budget is so difficult, but what we would need in an ideal world is a budget for developing nations supporting them to come to the conference. Because as you said, they are underrepresented. And it would be so good to have their voices here at the moment, we just have very loud voices from the Caribbean region, supporting the whaling nations and they are supported by, for example, Japan. But other countries, which are not in favor of whaling, they can't show up because no one is supporting them.
What is your take on some of the decisions that are pending? And some of the decisions that have been taken with respect the amendments in acts and the changes that have been discussed?
I mean, the sanctuary in the South Atlantic is a huge issue. And it's coming back every time, for about 18 years now. It's so difficult to get a three-quarter majority, which is what we need for that. And there are two very dangerous resolutions on the table one, claiming that whaling is a contribution to ensure food security, which is kind of absurd. And the other one is aiming to lift the moratorium. So I still hope that we will have the majority to defeat that. But of course, it's always a dangerous game.
So what is your agenda here? What is it that you propose to take away from this particular conference?
Apart from saving the moratorium, we feel the responsibility that as a European NGO, we need to bring a focus on European whaling because in the public, Japan's whaling is so much present, and Iceland and Norway's whaling activities are huge. And our job here is to put the spotlight on this and also on the small cetaceans, because we know that about 100,000 of small cetaceans are directly killed every single year. And the impact on the wild populations is immense. And here, we only see silence on this issue and we want to get these issues into the discussion. That's my job here.
What are the other major issues that are not being discussed, or issues that are in focus, and what would you like to see on the IWC table?
I'm very happy that there is more discussion on other threats to whales and dolphins, entanglement climate change, etc. That is so important. But apart from that, I mean, this is the Whaling Commission, and we should talk about what's going on in whaling. How many whales are taken and what this could mean for the populations?
How is cooperation between member countries established in the commission? Do you think that would enable better conservation? Is it already happening?
I think the problem is that it's always depending on capacities in the countries. And even if smaller countries, or countries with a small budget are unable to come, they often do not even have the capacity to work on the issue. I mean, it's so much more than coming to this conference for two weeks, but you need to work on the ground all the time. And it's really a difficulty with respect to enough staff, and finances for these countries.
This story was produced as part of a Biodiversity Media Initiative travel grant to the 68th meeting of the International Whaling Commission. It was originally published by India Times on 20 November 2022 and has been lightly edited for length and clarity. The Biodiversity Media Initiative is supported by Arcadia — a charitable fund of Peter Baldwin and Lisbet Rausing.
Banner image: A whale in Maui, United States / Credit: Abigail Lynn via Unsplash.