Two recent developments offer encouraging news for whales. Though not yet fully realized in terms of their ramifications, they are certainly steps in the right direction towards ensuring the long-term future of whales worldwide.
US Proposes Sanctions Against Iceland
Iceland is one of two nations that openly defy the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling - the other nation being Norway. Japan hides its whaling operations behind the commission's loophole regarding taking whales for scientific research.
In response to considerable pressure from environmental groups, US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, on Wednesday, put Iceland on notice that they may be subject to economic sanctions if they do not curtail all commercial whaling activities. Using the Pelly Amendment, which provides for sanctions against nations that violate global fisheries conservation agreements, the Commerce Department is taking the first step in a process that ultimately must be approved by President Obama.
"Iceland's harvest of whales and export of fin whale meat threaten an endangered species and undermine worldwide efforts to protect whales," said Locke, who oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "It's critical that the government of Iceland take immediate action to comply with the moratorium."
Iceland's actual involvement is whaling is not as aggressive as Norway or Japan. Complying with the whaling moratorium for many years, Iceland resumed whaling in 2006 and most of its catch was exported to Japan - a market that has declined recently. Last year, Iceland took about 225 whales, compared to Japan's annual catch which often exceeds 1,000.
But with Japan heading towards an international legal struggle with Australia and continued harassment from pro-whale organizations like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, taking political aim at one of the two Northern European whaling prohibition violators is an appropriate move. Now it remains to be seen as to whether President Obama will concur and impose sanctions.
Oman Studies Cetacea in the Northern Indian Ocean
Recognizing the importance of cetacea that ply the waters off this Arabian peninsula nation, Oman continues to embark on research to study the several different species of whales and dolphins that call the Northern Indian Ocean home.
Oman is the only Arabian peninsula nation that is a member of the IWC and, through its Environment Society of Oman (ESO), has been studying the Arabian Sea Humpback Whale in addition to Bryde's, Sperm and Blue whales. The study has generated great interest in the scientific community as the whales inhabit a region that is not directly linked to cold, polar feeding regions that generate considerable amounts of krill - a key food source for most whales. This makes for a somewhat unique habitat for the whales living there.
Recognizing the importance of conservation measures to monitor the interactions and threats to large whales from shipping traffic and bycatch, the director of the ESO Lamees Daar said, “The successful development of a regional CMP [Conservation Management Plan] will depend on the cooperation and understanding of all range states [Oman, Yemen, the UAE, Iran, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka], which is an ambitious undertaking but is a challenge that ESO feels is necessary.”
Read about possible US sanctions against Iceland in the Associated Foreign Press.
Read about Oman's pro-whale commitment in the Times of Oman.