Whales: Cockroaches of the seas?

Whales: Cockroaches of the seas?

By Dr. Marcos Sommer

A decision will be made on June 20, 2005 in Korea whether to protect or reopen large-scale commercial whaling. The Korean Administration is considering whether or not to vote in favor of the resumption of whaling, a practice that is currently internationally prohibited.

A decision will be made on June 20, 2005 in Korea whether to protect or reopen large-scale commercial whaling. The Korean Administration is considering whether or not to vote in favor of the resumption of whaling, a practice that is currently internationally prohibited.

Japan threatened "to take serious measures if the ban on commercial hunting does not end in 2005."

Japan is expanding the annual whaling to two new species in addition to nearly doubling the planned hunt of another cetacean, the minke whale in 2005.

Japan's recruitment of votes from some of the world's poorest countries has become an annual activity at the IWC (International Whaling Commission) with the aim of getting enough votes to end the ban on commercial whaling. For this, it has classified Minke whales as "cockroaches of the seas", which is the species that has the most specimens. Japan has also developed campaigns that try to convince the public that whales exterminate fish, and they also buy votes in the IWC giving financial support to countries that follow it.

Sorento (Italy, 2004), during the 56th meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) for the first time since the introduction of the moratorium on whaling in 1986, the pro-hunting countries were about to be a majority, after the entry in recent months of new members who support the so-called whaling blockade.

"Bloque whalenero", while four years ago there were nine countries in favor of commercial whaling, in 2004 there were 27, of the 57 members of the International Whaling Committee (IWC). In the vote to resume commercial whaling, 24 voted in favor and 29 states opposed, the highest number in decades.

There are six species of whales that are at risk of becoming part of the list of those that would become extinct due to thoughtless human activity, according to data from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), but this does not seem to be important when proposing that the moratorium on the hunting of these cetaceans be eliminated.

Japan has increased the resources it devotes to its so-called “scientific” hunting program and has insisted on disobeying the commercial hunting ban.

The whale meat transaction means for Japan transactions for more than 36 million dollars

The whales are also threatened by the spills of toxic products, global warming of the planet, noise pollution, overfishing and collisions with boats.

WWF estimates that whale watching annually attracts nine million tourists and generates approximately $ 1 billion.

Since the 1986 moratorium, Japan, Norway and Iceland are estimated to have killed 25,239 whales.

Hunting is generally with harpoons with explosive heads designed to explode inside the cetacean.

The whaling bloc argues that a “Sustainable” commercial hunt can be carried out. According to these countries, the whaling population has recovered enough to allow sustainable commercial hunting of various species, including minke whales.

In the month of June between 20 and 24 of this year, in Ulsan - South Korea, the 57th meeting of the IWC (INTERNATIONAL WHALE COMMISSION) will be held, there it will be decided whether to resume large-scale hunting of whales (all) or if they stop hunting them permanently. As it has not happened in 20 years, the votes between whaling and conservationist countries will be very even, and surely the continuation or end of the current moratorium on the commercial hunting of these giants will be decided by a minimum difference of votes.

Whaling dates back to at least the early 1600s, it was an important fishing activity and, given the technology of each era, intensive. Although it is affirmed that no species of whale has been extinct by man, it is no less true that the history of the whaling industry was characterized by the recurrent depletion of the reserves of different species. At the beginning of the last century, there were cases of populations reduced to very few individuals. These were easy-to-catch species such as the Greenland whale (Balaena mysticetus) and in particular the white-finned whale (Balen-optera acutorostrata). Technological advances in both fishing and navigational gear made it possible to extend the radius of catches and intensify them. The capture of slow and coastal species extended to that of fast species in the open sea and in Antarctica. Intensive hunting of fin whales, which peaked in 1930 with the capture of 29,490 individuals, reduced the reserve to levels below sustainability. This caused the fall of their catches to about 5,000 individuals in 1940. At the beginning of the last century the population of blue whales, intensively caught in the North Pacific, was estimated at 5,000 individuals, their protection dates from 1966, despite which in 1972 its population was about 1,500 individuals, which was equivalent to 65 percent of the estimated maximum sustainable catch. Something similar occurs with the North Atlantic reserves whose protection dates from 1955 and 1960 (Iceland). Its initial reserve was estimated at just over 1,100 individuals, of which there are currently a few hundred. In the southern hemisphere, the barely exploited whale reserve at the beginning of the last century was of the order of 200,000 individuals. Its intensive capture between 1920 and 1955 reduced it to less than 1,000 in 1964; in 1965 its hunting was prohibited; at the beginning of the eighties the reserve was 7,000 to 8,000 copies. At present the reserve is about 9,000 individuals.

With the disappearance of the large whales, it led to the hunting of smaller species, such as the boreal or northern fin whale (Balaenoptera borealis) and the humpback or jibarta whale (Megatera noval angliae). The first, which reaches 23 tons in weight by 12 to 18 meters in length, reduced its population by 33 percent in just 3 years (1963-1967); the current one is about 23,000 individuals versus an initial reserve of 45,000 to 50,000 in the early 1960s. In turn, the jibarta, which reaches an average weight of 54 tons and 17 m in length, reduced its reserve from about 100,000 individuals before starting its hunt, to a current population estimated at 5,000. It has been protected since 1966.

In the sixties, the whaling industry intensified the capture of sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), a migratory species weighing about 60 t and 20 m long. It is characterized by the distribution of its females and young individuals in tropical and subtropical waters of both hemispheres. Their catches peaked in 1965, later falling as the stock dwindled. In the southern hemisphere a reserve of 257,000 males and 330,000 females was estimated in 1946, which in 1972 had been reduced to 128,000 and 295,000 respectively.

Last year in the Italian city of Sorrento (Italy) the fifty-sixth annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held. Countries around the world debated fundamental issues for the conservation and recovery of whale populations, many of them threatened with extinction after the inheritance left by more than a century of commercial whaling, but only in 1925, when almost all species of large cetaceans were on the brink of extinction, efforts began to be made to save them through international regulations.

In Sorrento, it was possible to stop a plan that could have led to the lifting of the moratorium that has been in force since 1986 against commercial hunting of cetaceans. All thanks to the fact that 34 of the 57 countries that make up the commission voted against this initiative. The plan included an initial phase of five years, where the commercial capture would only take place in the coastal areas and with limited fishing quotas. He also won the power to maintain the "status quo" for ten more years in the Antarctic sanctuary, established in 1994, as one of the largest protected areas to guarantee the survival of species such as the blue whale, the southern right whale and the sperm whale, many in danger of extinction.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the only body recognized by the countries of the world, with the authority to regulate whaling. From the beginning, the member countries have been divided into two blocs, that of the whaling countries and that of the conservationists. Its creation in 1946 meant a reaction to the dramatic population decline experienced by large marine mammals, due to abusive hunting. The greatest success was achieved in 1986 when a moratorium on whaling was entered into Vigo in all the seas of the planet. Although it is a temporary ban and not always respected, in any way it meant a significant relief to the depredation registered in both hemispheres. It also sent a very positive message to the world in favor of the conservation of species, subordinating profitability to the balance of populations.

The Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 undoubtedly represented a new historical milestone in favor of the environment. The Spirit for the Conservation of the planet and its people was reborn, contemplating future generations that they called: Sustainable Development. The native peoples have applied it without knowing it since ancient times. Wiser and more pragmatic demonstrated that it is possible to obtain economic well-being, cultural growth and quality of life without attacking nature.

The ignorance of humanity is putting the oceans of our planet in danger. We have created this problem due to the false impression that the oceans are infinite and they must dissolve, absorb, purify and make everything that humanity produces harmless.

The whaling case allows us to illustrate the economic and ecological implications of the exploitation of free or public renewable resources, in particular, to illustrate different negative externalities related to overfishing, such as: reduction of reserves, depletion, fall in catches, increased effort fishing, yield drop, cost increase and so on.

Humanity is discovering in the worst way that the oceans are not infinite, much less invulnerable. Apart from man, whales are the only species that still migrate freely through all the oceans of this planet and occupy an important place in the structure and functioning of the seas and oceans. Most of these animals are the last link in complex food chains and can therefore serve as indicators of the health of an entire ecosystem. They are also the largest mammals on earth and certainly the most mysterious and interesting, since many things are unknown about them. The alarming problems facing many populations of dolphin and porpoise whales reflect the severity of the crisis facing the oceans. Not only the species and populations such as the right whale in the North Atlantic, the Vaquita or the gray whale in the Western Pacific face a possible extinction in this century, but also the fish populations, (currently, more than 70 percent of the world's fish stocks are at or near overexploited, overexploited or recovering. Some fish stocks that were supposed to be inexhaustible, such as Newfoundland cod, have all but disappeared and show no signs of recovery. Marine ecosystems are being degraded and in some cases have undergone major changes that affect their functioning.

More and more scientists are recommending the establishment of marine reserves, areas where catches are not allowed, in order to repair the damage done over decades by overfishing. Japan argues that it is necessary to kill more whales than so far to prove that they are responsible for the decline in fish stocks. There are scientific works in which there is no evidence that the fishing grounds and the areas where the whales feed are overlapping. These mammals also eat mainly plankton, deep-sea squid and small crabs.

From an ecological perspective, it is interesting to explore the effect of over-harvesting on the relationships between species and their food. In the Antarctic zone, five species of whales and three of seals, several species of seabirds and pelagic fish species, as well as some cephalopods, compete for the same sustenance: krill (Euphausia superba). As has been observed, krill populations have increased with the decline in whale stocks, which is being taken advantage of by other consumers. Thus some penguin populations have increased notably. In turn, the ramification of the populations of some species has favored one of them: the northern fin whale, which, thanks to the greater availability of food, reveals higher growth and pregnancy rates and earlier ages of sexual maturity. This raises the question of whether this fact does not hinder the recovery of depleted whale stocks (a phenomenon similar to that of the North Pacific sardines).

The unexpected abundance of Krill has also awakened the appetite of another predator: the human being, who, ignoring one of the causes of the sudden abundance, that is, the disappearance of its greatest predator, the whales, has speculated on the commercial exploitation of krill, according to some, a "huge and inexhaustible" marine resource for protein production, both for direct human consumption and for animal consumption. It is obvious that any massive capture of Krill will unleash a series of chain effects, in species of marine mammals, ichthyological, cephalopods and seabirds, which in the southern hemisphere depend on this food and lack other sustenance of the same size and concentration. .

Some experts have observed that the conversion of Krill into protein for animal feed implies a low energy efficiency, not only because of the relatively high capture costs in relation to the minimum volume necessary, but also because of the phases of conversion into protein and finally because of the well-known energy inefficiency in the production of animal protein, in circumstances that, as has been pointed out, krill is a link in a very efficient food chain. These experts conclude that the best use of krill is in the context of efficient management of the resources of the sea, rather than in its capture for animal feed.

Something similar happens with ichthyological species for which the competition between humans and whales is great. This is the case of the North Atlantic capelin, the basic sustenance of the jebarta, the white-finned whale and the fin whale. It is estimated that in the Newfoundland region a reserve of 2,500 fin whales consume about 250,000 t of capelin each summer season and that the stock of white fin whales consumes another 35,000 t, compared to 250,000 landings in 1974 by various fishing fleets for consumption. human, and much higher amounts consumed by predatory species of capelin such as seals, cod, tuna etc. In turn, man competes with fin and white fin whales for herring, with others for sardines and anchovies, and with various species for cod and mackerel, the dietary supplement of copepods in the diet of fin whales. from North.

In recent years a new argument has been used to justify whaling. Its defenders rely without scientific basis that whales are depleting fish stocks, but they are not able to produce a single report that supports their theories, the truth is that, across the world's oceans, the fishing crisis is one of the results of the irrational exploitation of the oceans.

It has now been 18 years since the whale trade was banned around the world. However, Norway hunts without pretending to do science, beyond being a member of the IWC, as this Convention leaves open the possibility of abiding without sanctions (Article 5) the resolutions adopted by the party countries. While Japan and Iceland justify their systematic capture under the excuse of "scientific research." The whaling countries use science as an excuse for their cruel business. This is another of the legal loopholes of the IWC that refers to the authorization to each member of "permits" for the capture, killing and processing of whales for "scientific" purposes (paragraph VIII of the statutes).

Japan takes a tissue sample and the rest of the whale is sold in the market.

Each year, Japan kills more than 540 whales (10 percent pregnant), which do not go to research, but directly to the plate of luxurious Japanese restaurants. Moreover, it is no mystery to anyone that Japan hunts whales in an internationally recognized sanctuary in the Antarctic Ocean, but of course there is a lack of arms and global will to sanction and control.

Japan's recruitment of the votes of some of the world's poorest countries has become an annual activity at the IWC with the aim of getting enough votes to end the ban on commercial whaling. For this, it has classified Minke whales as "cockroaches of the seas, which is the species that has the most specimens. Likewise, Japan has developed campaigns that try to convince the public that whales exterminate fish, and they also buy votes in the CBI granting financial support to countries that follow it.

Lifting the moratorium requires the vote of three-quarters of the members of the Commission (CBI), but a simple majority of the whaling bloc would open the doors for an increase in quotas for hunting for scientific purposes.

Today the persecution is carried out only for the meat, but a thousand years ago its fat was used for oil for lamps, candles, soaps and perfumes. Whale baleen- the horny and elastic blades that hang from the jaw instead of teeth were used for brushes and to straighten clothing such as corsets and umbrellas. Later, the sperm, for use as fuel, the oil was used to produce margarine or to tan leather.

Uses of the different parts of the whale.

Ambergris (intestine stones)Perfumes
Pituitary gland

Machine oils

Hormonal extracts




Subcutaneous bones and fats

Creams, soaps, detergents, lipsticks

Crayons, pencil leads

Calcium, compost, plasticizers


Tennis rackets, musical strings

Gums, gelatins, photographic paper, drug capsules

During the intensive Japanese exploitation of the 1930s, the most appreciated was the oil; after the second world war the meat was used together with the oil; Finally, in the time of intensive capture of the sperm whale, whose meat is appreciated in few places, the objective was its conversion into oil and flour.

In this century, the reason why they are killed is that their meat is a delicacy in several Asian countries. So every so often there is blue whale meat - with 32 meters, the largest mammal in the world and in danger of extinction - in Japanese supermarkets. And that the hunting of this cetacean, which can weigh up to 150 tons, is completely prohibited.

The main goal of the contemporary whaling industry is to maximize profits by selling the meat and fat for the Japanese consumer market. The commercial interest lies in the prices that are reached: from US $ 17 per kg of meat to US $ 800 per kilo. of fat".

Whales are relatively short-lived animals, around 30 years, and they reproduce little and late. One and very rarely two calves at a time, with which their potential for recovery and consequently for survival after overhunting is relatively weak. On the other hand, some of these mammals are characterized by being at the top of a very short trophic chain, among the shortest in nature. For example, the northern whale or fin whale is in the fourth trophic level, and those that feed on krill like the blue and fin whale in the third, thus reflecting a relatively high energy performance.

Cetaceans have an almost incredible ability to enrich the lives of those with whom they come into peaceful contact. They exert a unique universal attraction on the human spirit. They are incomparable generators of wonder and admiration. There is a mystique around them that inspires a sense of wonder and happiness in people of all races and nationalities, something that no other animal group has come to equal to such magnitude. Cetaceans hold such a fascination for people that they have become powerful tools for the education of people of all ages. Furthermore, they seem to have a special affinity for humans.

Despite their threatening size and strength, and despite centuries of human predation, whales in their natural environment prove time and again to be exceptionally tolerant of human proximity, not only tolerating but also they often deliberately initiate positive interactions with people.

The living space of whales, unlike that of land animals, is not delineated by clearly defined national boundaries. Their territories belong to a large extent to the globality of nations: they are the seas of the world that do not belong to any particular nation, constituting a particularly global resource. Thus, whales are under international control, and since they are not legally a resource of any country, no nation can claim the moral right to kill them. Decisions on the exploitation or protection of whales logically and legally must be made through an international body such as the International Whaling Commission.

Thanks to the moratorium, large whales such as the gigantic blue whale, which can weigh up to 150 tons, even the tiny 15-ton minke whale are not in immediate danger of extinction. But the blue fin whale and its cousin the Atlantic right whale are classified as endangered species, while the boreal right whale, the fin whale, the fin whale and the humpback are considered vulnerable species. The gray whale population of the Atlantic Northwest barely numbers 300 or 350 individuals and that of the Northwest Atlantic has been so severely damaged that it is about to disappear from the planet. Likewise, there are between 100 and 200 specimens of the gray species of the Pacific Northwest, while other cetaceans, including dolphins and porpoises, have also fallen to critical levels.

Japan has always opposed the moratorium. Although the consumption of whale meat is part of its ancestral culture, it is also true that today it is a modern, avant-garde country and well educated enough to understand the limits of ecosystems and species. Despite the resolute bans, Norway, Russia, Korea, China, Iceland and Japan continue to kill whales while trying to disguise them through supposed scientific research programs. Of course, scientific interest never prevented the meat of these whales from inexorably ending up for sale in the markets and restaurants of the cities.

The oceans that cetaceans now inhabit are not the same as they existed in 1925 when the IWC was created. Currently the main threats to cetaceans are pollution, food shortages, collisions with boats, depletion of the ozone layer, noise pollution, overfishing, bycatch, climate change and the increasing degradation of their habitat puts them in serious danger the existence of seven of the 13 species of large whales in the world, which also suffer from non-compliance with the international moratorium. According to the latest research, whales are increasingly affected by the accumulation of chemical elements in their fats, which are slowly released through their milk to their young.

The chemical revolution of the last half of the 20th century has created a multitude of new products and by-products, many of which are accompanied by highly toxic materials that when concentrated become almost deadly poisons. Among the most dangerous and persistent are the halogenated organ (organic compounds that include chlorine, fluorine and bromine); examples of these compounds are dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane or better known as DDT, biphenyls, polychlorinated, furans and dioxins. Some of these toxins can be found in some pesticides and herbicides.

Many of these compounds last for hundreds to even thousands of years. There is evidence to suggest that these substances may be responsible for lower sperm production in men, anatomical malformations, developmental problems in fetuses, learning problems in children, and increased deficiencies in the immune systems of all mammals.

Noise levels from industrial marine activities have increased seriously affecting these animals that use a sonar system to navigate and communicate, as well as to find food.

All species of odontocetes (cetaceans with teeth) use a system of "sonar" to communicate and detect their prey. The delicate and perfect cranial system of a beaked whale is capable of producing sounds that bounce off objects and beings on the seabed, especially in places where visibility is low or null, and that are returned to it in the form of waves through its jaw bottom, giving you a complete definition of what is around you.

Therefore, it is not by chance that the US Navy has focused on this species of cetaceans as an experimental model to develop and perfect its military sonars.

Paradoxically, the complex communication system of these marine mammals, copied by humans to control the oceans, is turning against them and is beginning to be a serious threat.

Beaked whales have a particularly complicated echolocation system that has made them a point of special interest. The skull has a large number of cavities (sinuses) that allow it to articulate a great diversity of sounds and its lower jaw (two hemimandibles fused at its outermost end) is very fragile and of little consistency, which gives them a great capacity and precision when picking up bounced sounds.

These animals usually feed in places of great depth, where the water temperatures are very low and the entry of light is zero, so that only bioluminescence or echolocation can allow them to capture their prey.

NATO has carried out studies that have revealed a wide range of sounds used by these cetaceans; from the sequence of clicks at an interval of 0.07 seconds to others of longer duration, such as whistles. Although many of the sounds they emit are between 1 and 10 Khz., Sounds ranging between 30 Hz and more than 40 Khz have been detected and it is believed that they can hear sounds in a much higher range (between 100 Hz and 80 Khz.). They have also been found to be particularly sensitive to mid-range frequencies in this range, matching those used in low- and mid-frequency sonar systems.

The investigations were later expanded to learn about the impact of noise pollution, especially by the military sonars that were being developed, on these animals. This was intensified after beaked whales were stranded off the Greek coast after naval exercises conducted by NATO (which concluded that one of the animals had been hit by a 290 Hz sound wave 15 kilometers from the emitter). Similar conclusions have been drawn from experiments carried out by the US Navy in areas such as Hawaii, California or the Bahamas, where either stranding or abnormal behavior was also detected in cetaceans.

Another problem that cetaceans suffer are the changes in the climate of recent years, which have caused severe disturbances in ocean currents, as well as global warming that causes polar melt, which could cause an ecological destabilization of the Arctic and Antarctic that would put endangered species that live in the area.

In Sorrento the ritual verbal warfare took place between those who sought to increase their hunting quotas and those who opposed the so-called “hunting for scientific purposes” of cetaceans that Japan, Norway and Iceland carry out. Specialists are indicating that another serious problem facing whales is artisanal fishing. Tens of thousands of cetaceans are accidentally caught each year in fishing activities and some species and populations, such as the North Atlantic right whale, the baiji dolphin, the vaquita or the gray whale of the Northwest Pacific, could become extinct this century if measures are not taken immediate.

The ban on international hunting has not succeeded in preventing 60,000 whales from perishing annually, according to the most pessimistic estimates the number even rises to 300,000 among dolphins and whales, victims of normal fishing. They perish in nets or are caught in the ropes that tie lobster hunting baskets. Others are victims of ghost nets, lost nets that drift aimlessly and continue to kill on their way. More whales die today than in decades of peak hunting. The Norwegian and Japanese hunting quotas are 130 dwarf whales, 10 sperm whales and 50 Bryde whales in 2003. In the Baltic Sea for example, normal fishing has almost completely decimated the pig and it is estimated that they survive when a lot about 100 copies. In this sea 7,500 whales die annually in normal fishing nets. Bycatch is one of the major problems for whales in this century, but this issue does not occupy the International Commission on Whaling.

On the other hand, unknown a few decades ago, commercial whale watching has quickly become a multi-million dollar global business in several countries. Well managed, this recreational activity is a good opportunity to develop sustainable tourism in coastal regions that have this natural resource. The Conservation of cetaceans allows their tourist exploitation which is very lucrative, exceeding one billion dollars each year, with an average annual growth of 18.6 percent.

Many countries have adopted navigation guidelines and standards for whale watching, adapted to each species and place. El objetivo es causar a estas extraordinarias criaturas la menor molestia posible, para de esta forma ayudarlas a sobrevivir y garantizar que las generaciones futuras puedan continuar disfrutando de esta productiva actividad.

En algunos casos, el avistamiento de ballenas puede haber surgido precisamente porque su caza está en descenso. Islandia fue un ejemplo, la observación de cetáceo se incrementó 250 por ciento entre 1994 y 1998.

En lo que sí ha tenido algo de éxito Japón es la compra de votos dentro de la CBI. Se trata de algunos países de economías pobres de reciente ingreso a la Comisión. La idea es inclinar la balanza a su favor, a la hora de votar propuestas. En la Reunión de la CBI en Italia (2004), Japón nuevamente movió sus piezas para tratar de levantar la moratoria que impide la caza comercial de ballenas. Por fortuna, no lo consiguió. Tampoco logró que se impusiera el voto secreto. Está medida permitiría comprar el voto de varios países sin que los mismos quedaran expuestos ante la opinión pública nacional e internacional.

La actitud de Japón de comprar votos de naciones pertenecientes a la Comisión Ballenera Internacional (CBI) a cambio de ayudas económicas, esta maniobra es conocida desde hace tiempo. Esta actitud desacredita aún más la credibilidad ambiental de Japón. A pesar de la prohibiciones resueltas, continuo con la matanza de ballenas, aunque tratando de disfrazarlas mediante supuestos programas de investigación científica. Desde luego el interés científico nunca impidió que la carne de sus ballenas termine inexorablemente a la venta en los mercados y restaurantes de las ciudades niponas.

El interés nipón por cazar ballenas es de un grupo muy pequeño de japoneses, unas quinientas familias que se dedican al negocio. El argumento científico de los japoneses es una mentira-fachada para mantener una lucrativa industria ballenera en Japón, donde la carne se sigue vendiendo en restaurantes y comercios, esto suma unos 80 millones de dólares al año. Los subsidios del gobierno llegan a 4 millones de dólares anuales.

El gobierno japonés de forma unilateral anuncio su decisión de incrementar el número de ballenas que matará cada año, en aras de la ciencia.

Japón lleva a cabo en este siglo una guerra de desgaste en la cual año tras año se va metiendo cada vez más y los países que se oponen a la caza de ballena van perdiendo.

Tokio propuso en Sorrento una modificación al plan de cuotas de caza conocido como ESQUEMA DE MANEJO REVISADO (RMS por sus siglas en inglés), que lleve asociado al final inmediato de la moratoria sobre la caza comercial de ballenas. El RMS es un conjunto de reglas y procedimientos destinados a gestionar la caza de ballenas en el futuro, que ha sido debatido durante muchos años y que hasta ahora no ha llevado implícito la reanudación inmediata de la caza comercial de ballena. Si se llegará a probar el RMS, la moratoria sobre la caza comercial de ballenas debería ser levantada de forma automática. Los votos secretos, las reuniones a puerta cerrada y la compra de votos fueron las palabras claves de la CBI en Italia (2004). EL mundo reclama mayor transparencia, la CBI sigue funcionando en forma opaca, y el proceso del RMS es un ejemplo claro. La propuesta fue apoyada por Dinamarca, España, Estados Unidos, Holanda y Suecia busco autorizar la pesca de ballenas Minke, la especie más pequeña y abundante. Pese al sorpresivo apoyo de Estados Unidos, tradicionalmente opuesto a la caza, la moción no consiguió el 75 por ciento de los votos necesarios para su aprobación.

Como consecuencia Japón, el principal defensor de la explotación comercial de cetáceos, dijo que si la Comisión no flexibiliza la moratoria en un futuro abandonará el organismo y reanudará unilateralmente la caza. Aduciendo fines científicos, Japón, Noruega e Islandia cazaron 25.239 ballenas desde 1986.

La campaña pro caza japonesa es respaldada por un creciente grupo de países en vías de desarrollo con Antigua y Barbuda, Costa de Marfil, Dominica, Granada, Guinea, Mauritania, Mongolia, Surinam y Tuvalu.

Cuando la CBI se creó, heredó, de su predecesor (el Consejo Internacional para la Regulación de la Caza de Ballenas), un santuario que ocupaba la cuarta parte del Océano Antártico y que albergaba poblaciones de ballenas sin explotar. Este santuario fue conservado hasta 1955. En ese año, se abrió a la caza de ballenas debido a la presión de la industria ballenera. En tan sólo dos años se produjeron en el, 40 por ciento de las capturas de ballenas en todo el Océano Antártico; en los siguientes tres años las capturas de ballenas fueron disminuyendo.

Uno de los mayores éxitos de Sorrento (2004) fue la condena al uso de arpones explosivos que causan una muerte lenta y dolorosa. Aunque el organismo rechazó la creación de nuevas reservas en Argentina y Brasil y Nueva Zelandia, extendió por 10 años más el Santuario del Océano Sur que protege al 75 por ciento de la población mundial de cetáceos. Los santuarios o reservas balleneras, son refugios que garantizan a las ballenas protección a largo plazo frente a la caza y surgen como uno de los mecanismos necesarios para asegurar su supervivencia. La propuesta para el establecimiento del Santuario Ballenero del Atlántico Sur , que es liderada por Argentina y Brasil, recibió el apoyo de países como Chile, Perú, Estados Unidos y Sudáfrica, a pesar de haber recibido 26 votos a favor, 22 votos en contra y 4 obtenciones, no logró contar con la mayoría necesaria. De haber sido establecido hubiese significado para las ballenas del Hemisferio Sur la oportunidad de vivir toda su vida en un mar libre de la caza comercial. Sin embargo, el resultado negativo no debe sorprender ya que Japón sumo aliados al bloque pro cacería para que lo acompañen en el voto y de ese modo bloquear las iniciativas conservacionistas propuestas en el seno de la CBI.

La creación de Áreas de Santuario, está contemplada en el Artículo V de la Convención Internacional para la Regulación de la Caza de Ballenas y contiene disposiciones bajo las cuales la CBI puede enmendar la Agenda, adoptando regulaciones con respecto a la conservación y manejo de ballenas y productos balleneros. Los Santuarios son considerados de gran importancia para la utilización sustentable de los recursos vivos del mar y su establecimiento es totalmente coherente con las tendencias de conservación marina que hoy se realizan en todo el mundo. También ofrece la posibilidad de reforzar actividades de gran importancia para la sociedad como la investigación y la educación particularmente en los países en vías de desarrollo.

Otra propuesta que tampoco logró aprobación, fue la de la creación de un Santuario en el Océano Pacífico Sur, llevada adelante por Australia, Nueva Zelandia y copatrocinada por Chile. Los resultados de las votaciones fueron 26 a favor, 21 en contra y 4 abstenciones.

A pesar de estos resultados desfavorables, pudo acordarse de que el Santuario Ballenero Austral continuará vigente por una década más. Dicho santuario es crucial en la conservación y desarrollo de los recursos balleneros ya que cubre el área circumpolar alrededor de la Antártica que incluye la mayoría de las aguas al sur de los 40°S, protegiendo así a poblaciones de ballenas devastados por la industria ballenera en áreas de reproducción, alimentación y crianza. Con respecto a esta Santuario, los gobiernos de Japón, Noruega e Islandia expresaron su rechazo a su mantención argumentando que éste carece de validez científica. Japón por su parte, presentó una propuesta para eliminarlo y auto-otorgarse una cuota de 3.000 ballenas minke austral para ser capturadas durante los próximos cinco años. Esta propuesta fue rechazada ya que no fue sometida previamente al Comité Científico y no existe una estimación de abundancia sobre esta población.

Japón en el 2004, quería poder matar en los próximos cinco años a 2914 ballenas de la especie rorcual aliblanco (minke) por año en la zona protegida de la Antártica. Pese a la prohibición de la caza comercial los japoneses capturan al año ya 400 de estos cetáceos bajo la excusa de su uso en investigación científica.

En Sorrento se exigió además medidas urgentes para proteger a las ballenas grises –de las que quedan apenas 100 ejemplares- de la explotación petrolera en la isla rusa de Sakhalin.

Otro de los aspectos más positivos es la instauración del Comité dedicado exclusivamente a políticas de conservación de los cetáceos, la iniciativa aprobada en la reunión del 2003 en Berlín y que progresa lentamente pero en la adecuación adecuada.

También ha obtenido el visto bueno de la CBI la resolución presentada por una docena de países, entre ellos Nueva Zelandia, México, Brasil y Argentina, que contempla la adopción de medidas para mitigar el sufrimiento de los grandes mamíferos marinos durante la caza, como los causados por los arpones con granadas en su cabeza.

La agenda de la reunión de Sorrento abordó, por otra parte la cuestión de las capturas accidentales de delfines y ballenas, el mayor problema que actualmente se enfrenta estos cetáceos.

También rehusó implantar el voto secreto dentro de la asamblea, una iniciativa que la delegación nipona presenta puntualmente todos los años y que, de salir adelante, significaría un duro golpe a la transparencia de la CBI.

Una de las pocas concesiones que se ha otorgado al frente ballenero ha sido la autorización a ciertas comunidades locales para que practique en forma controlada la caza ballenera, por tradiciones culturales y gastronómicas.

Los cientos de millones de personas que se oponen a la caza de ballenas tienen derecho a vigilar los planes de la CBI para reanudar su caza. Estos no pueden desarrollarse en secreto y luego votarse antes de que nadie fuera de la CBI sepa lo que dicen. Es necesario y es fundamental un proceso transparente en la CBI si esta organización quiere mantener su credibilidad en el mundo. Cualquier mayoría a favor de la cacería de ballenas será comprada y no ganada. Es terrible que una medida de conservación de las ballenas apoyada por cientos de millones de personas en todo el mundo pueda desaparecer por una campaña de compra de votos bien financiada por un gobierno que representa los intereses de una industria insostenible.

Lo angustiante de este siglo es que mientras existan países como Japón que aprovechan resquicios legales para su propios fines, nunca se podrá garantizar el futuro de las ballenas, además es fundamental un proceso transparente en la Comisión Ballenera Internacional (CBI) si esta organización quiere mantener su credibilidad en el mundo".

Fighting for the conservation and survival of species, regardless of their beauty or size, is, neither more nor less, fighting for our present and future. It is a monumental task that pursues the very survival of the human being.

* Dr. Marcos Sommer
Ökoteccum-Kiel Alemania

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