The South Atlantic: A Sanctuary for Whales

September 3, 2014

The Chilean organization, Centro de Conservación Cetacea, provided IWC reps with a briefing on the proposed South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. The proposal will be presented to the IWC by Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, and Uruguay, in conjunction with the Buenos Aires Group. If the proposal passes, the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary would be quite a victory for the whales, so long as "scientific" whaling is prohibited there as well.

South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary

For more than 16 years, the proposal for the creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary (SAWS) has represented the legitimate interests of southern hemisphere countries to offer permanent protection to whale populations such that they are used in a non-lethal way for science and for tourist observations of these marine mammals.

Since its initial presentation in 1998 the proposal has been widely considered by the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the range States, and members of the Commission. As a result of this process, the proposal has received significant support from the IWC. In 2012, the proposal obtained 65% support of the member states of the IWC. Nevertheless, the proposal has not yet been adopted due to consistent blocking by the whaling countries, led by Japan, and which includes various West African and Caribbean countries that unconditionally support that Asian nation in exchange for financing of fisheries programs and other favors.

Article V of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) includes mechanisms for the conservation and use of whales, including the creation of sanctuaries. Through this legal framework, the creation of the whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic will allow for the promotion of, and offer long term guarantees for, research, conservation and tourism activities developed by the range States. In addition, it would complement existing sanctuaries created by the IWC (i.e., Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean sanctuaries).

The increasing pressure by countries such as Japan to resume commercial whaling in the southern hemisphere, by means of illegal "scientific" whaling programs, reflects the urgent necessity to guarantee that the waters of the South Atlantic remain permanently free from whaling in the future. However, the adoption of the sanctuary is not sufficient to guarantee the protection of those populations of whales in our region, and the proposal to create the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary must be considered in conjunction with the definitive elimination of "scientific" whaling in these protected areas and the reform of Article VIII of the ICRW.

The objectives of the South Atlantic Sanctuary include not only the prohibition of commercial catches in case of the lifting of the moratorium, but also a wide range of interests and initiatives designed to address, in an efficient manner, the growing threats and challenges that whale populations face in the region. The proposal therefore forms part of the evolving process that the Convention has undergone since the adoption of the global commercial whaling moratorium and is consistent with the non-extractive use of cetaceans in the South Atlantic Ocean basin.

The creation of the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary would allow for the promotion of scientific research in the region by means of international cooperation and the active participation of the IWC. The strengthening of cetacean research in this ocean basin would enable:

  1. The promotion of long term conservation of more than 50 species of cetaceans, seven of which are great whale species, during the entirety of their life cycle, with special emphasis on key zones such as reproductive, feeding and breeding areas.
  2. The assurance of the long term sustainability of the non-lethal use of cetaceans for the development of productive activities and scientific investigation.
  3. The monitoring of the long term recovery of populations and species of whales affected by commercial whaling.
  4. The identification and knowledge of migratory routes and movement patterns of cetacean species.
  5. The identification of threats, and the development of means to mitigate such.
  6. The monitoring of changes in cetacean distribution due to, for example, changes in food availability, climate change, maritime traffic, seismic surveys and other anthropogenic threats.

You can read the full proposal here.


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A special thank you to...

Ken SextonDivya SivaramanLynette Koftinow
Betty and Terry BorgJanet and Joe Faina
Brenda HemkenNicolas BorgDivya Sivaraman

...and everyone else that contributed to make my attendance at the IWC possible