16 Ocean L. Memo 1 (1979)

handle is hein.journals/ocoaslme16 and id is 1 raw text is: 





Ocean  Resources   law  Program   * School   of  Law  * University   of  Oregon   * Eugene   * OR  97403


Ocean Lw M mo


THE   BOWHEAD WHALE CONTROVERSY:

A  Crisis for U.S. Whale Policy


      In June, 1977, the International Whaling Com-
 mission (IWC) voted to delete from its Schedule of
 Regulations the exemption for subsistence killing of
 bowhead whales by native peoples.  Hardest hit by
 this deletion were Alaskan Eskimos who have his-
 torically hunted these whales for subsistence.  The
 Bowhead, whose habitat is the northern Pacific
 arctic and subarctic waters, is crucial to the
 Eskimo culture.  The Eskimos' dependence on these
 animals and the hunt itself is far-reaching, pro-
 viding villages with food, social order, cultural
 identity and some measure of economic independence.
 In the words of an Inupiat Eskimo, without the
 whale, there is no Eskimo.

      Since June of 1977, the Inupiat Eskimos have
 attempted to resist deletion of the bowhead exemp-
 tion and subsequent IWC action in U.S.  courts. The
 Eskimos' situation, and the litigation they initiated,
 raised a complex of issues having legal, inter-
 national, political and environmental significance
 which have yet to be fully resolved. At stake is a
 species threatened with extinction, and a culture
 totally dependent on that species for survival.

                  THE  IWC

      The IWC was established under the 1946 Inter-
national Convention  (treaty) for the Regulation of
Whaling  to provide for the conservation, development
and optimum utilization of whale resources.  The
WC  meets at least yearly, and currently is composed
of 20 contracting governments.  It establishes in
its schedule of regulations proper whaling procedures
and whale-take quotas which are reviewed and, de-
pending on current information, amended annually.

     Until recent years, the 1MC has not taken a
conservationist stance.  By all accounts, it rather
juggled conflicting economic interests to produce
immediate gain for whaling nations, until many
whale species were dangerously depleted.  The Scien-
tific Committee of the IWC, originally composed of
biologists who were natural historians, became in-
creasingly concerned as whale populations declined.
The Committee needed more quantitative data on
whale populations, specifically statistics describ-
ing a species'ability to respond to the commercial
harvest, and established a subcommittee of popula-


tion  dynamicists in 1961.  A trend placing more
emphasis  on quantitative information continues
within  the Committee to the present day.  The Com-
mittee  is composed of scientists from whaling and
non-whaling  nations.  Although each member nation
may  send scientists, not all nations are represented.
In  recent years, the 1WC has attempted to make its
decisions  more objective and less susceptible
to  political trade-offs by relying on Scientific
Committee  recommendations in formulating IWC re-
gulations.

      IWC efforts at conservation have been further
 weakened by the terms of the treaty itself.  Any
 member nation objecting to an 1MC regulation is not
 bound by it.  Hence, the IWC's only method of en-
 forcement is publication of objections by member
 nations, and of violations of its regulations by
 members and non-members.  Until 1973, whaling
 nations made liberal use of the objection provision.

                 The Controversy

      The IWC regulations prohibit the general
 taking of Bowheads but, until 1977, contained an
 exemption allowing hunting for subsistence use.
 In 1973, the Scientific Committee began requesting
 the U.S. to report the Eskimo kill of Bowheads, and
 to make the native hunt more efficient, specifically
 by reducing the number of whales struck by the
 Eskimos, but not landed.  The Committee's concern
 centered on the small size of the Bowhead popula-
 tion, and the threat presented not only by the
 subsistence hunt, but also by the threat of poten-
 tial harm caused by oil development in the North
 American Arctic. The U.S.   did not comply with the
 Scientific Committee's requests.  The Committee
 repeated these requests yearly through 1976, but the
 government neither responded nor informed the Eskimos
 of the Committee's position.  Finally, in June of
 1977, the Scientific Committee recommended deletion
 of the subsistence exemption and the IWC adopted its
 recommendation 16-0, with only the U.S. abstaining.

     The IWC decision placed the government  in a
precarious position.  The U.S. is required by  the
Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972  (MMPA) to
facilitate effective conservation and protection of
whales on a global scale.  Within the IWC, the U.S.


Distributed by:  OSU Extension Service' Sea Grant Marine Advisory  Program, Corvallis, OR  97331


Issue   16


Novenber 19 79

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