A Regional Approach to Whaling: How the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission Is Shifting the Tides for Whale Management

By Hardy, Brettny | Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, Fall 2006 | Go to article overview

A Regional Approach to Whaling: How the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission Is Shifting the Tides for Whale Management


Hardy, Brettny, Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law


INTRODUCTION

In October 2006, Iceland officially rejected a twenty-year ban on whaling by killing a fin whale off its coast for commercial purposes. (1) Iceland states that it will commercially hunt up to nine fin whales and thirty minke whales during the 2006-07 season. (2) This announcement threatens to weaken the authority of an international moratorium on whaling that has been in place for about twenty years. In truth, however, international whale management had been struggling long before Iceland's recent action. The International Whaling Commission (IWC), the primary global organization designated to manage the hunting of large whales, is unable to achieve cooperation between its members because it has become a politically charged group, ignoring the advice of scientists and drifting away from its original mandates. (3)

The IWC was originally created in 1946 by a group of whaling nations interested in promoting the sustainable hunt of whales. (4) Since the 1970s, however, preservation-minded members have pushed the IWC away from its original governing principles. (5) The IWC has divided into two fragments: those that completely oppose whaling (anti-whaling states) and those that support regulated, sustainable whaling (pro-whaling states). (6) A fierce debate between pro-whaling interests and anti-whaling interests has ensued and the sides are unable to reach a resolution. (7) Because these political groups have captured IWC management, the IWC may be losing its credibility as a scientific and regulatory body in the eyes of the international community. (8)

Still, international whale management is not completely flawed. A separate regional organization, the North Atlantic Marine Mammal Commission (NAMMCO), (9) which is designed to manage marine mammals in the North Atlantic, (10) has achieved successful cooperation among its members. As compared to the IWC, NAMMCO is a much smaller body that focuses its guidelines on North Atlantic marine mammals and their ecosystems, while the IWC is a global organization that manages whaling worldwide. Though smaller in scale than the IWC, NAMMCO has had a powerful and evolving presence in the marine mammal community since its inception.

When NAMMCO first emerged in 1992, many believed it would act as a replacement to the IWC. (11) One author, David Caron, wrote, "In developing its own data base of marine mammal populations in the North Atlantic, NAMMCO will challenge the legitimacy of the IWC's decision making by contradicting the science and expertise that is the foundation of such legitimacy." (12) After NAMMCO was developed, other strong whaling nations, such as Japan, threatened to withdraw from the IWC and form additional regional management groups similar to NAMMCO. (13)

However, NAMMCO has not undermined the IWC, (14) and the two organizations have coexisted for fifteen years as the IWC has continued to operate as the primary international body for large whale management. (15) NAMMCO has not acted as an alternative management structure for its members either. Iceland, a NAMMCO member state, which had dropped out of the IWC when NAMMCO was created, rejoined the IWC in 2002. (16)

Despite the fact that NAMMCO has not become an alternative to the IWC, NAMMCO can still provide lessons on how the IWC could operate. NAMMCO has been more successful at establishing cooperation in order to coordinate rational management of the North Atlantic marine mammal ecosystem. (17) NAMMCO has also conducted its own scientific surveys of marine mammal populations that are well regarded in the international community. (18) More importantly, NAMMCO member nations have followed the advice of scientists, structuring marine mammal hunts in order to preserve marine mammal populations. (19) Finally, NAMMCO has established a working observation system that regulates whaling takes from all member nations. (20)

NAMMCO has progressed from a potential rival to a thriving management organization. …

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