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International Whaling Commission Meeting Ends on Sour Note Despite Some Positive Moves for Whales

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – The 59th annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) ended today with political wrangling and self-interest preventing significant developments for whale conservation.

"The meeting marked some advances for whales but they in no way match the level of threats facing the world’s whales, dolphins and porpoises today," said Gordon Shepherd, director of international policy for WWF-International. "Governments must stop grandstanding and get serious about establishing an organization capable of dealing with the real problems these species face."

The most dramatic moment came at the end of the meeting when the government of Japan, after numerous delays, withdrew its proposal for a quota of minke whales due to obvious lack of support, and stated its possible intention to leave the IWC. This threat, and its refusal to participate in a number of votes, contradicts its stated intention to turn the IWC into a constructive and effective organization.

"As governments disagree on the same issues over and again, more and more whales are being killed by governments exploiting loopholes in the moratorium against commercial whaling. This degrades the entire spirit of the convention" said Wendy Elliott of WWF International’s Global Species Program. "Time is running out for these species and for the IWC."

Positive steps for whales during the meeting included the IWC’s Scientific Committee committing to hold a workshop on climate change, an accelerating threat to cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). The commission also adopted a resolution by consensus urging strong action to save the critically endangered vaquita, a porpoise, in Mexico. This marks the first time a conservation resolution on a small cetacean was passed by consensus. In addition, strong statements were made against the proposal by the U.S. government to lease an area of critical habitat for the world’s most endangered whale population – the eastern North Pacific right whale – for oil and gas development.

"Governments like the U.S. that support whale conservation at the IWC must be consistent – it is critical that the U.S. reinstates the moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the habitat of the eastern North Pacific right whale," continued Elliott. "The vaquita resolution demonstrates that the IWC can deal with conservation. This organization obviously has the potential to help whales – now is the time to use it."

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Known in the United States as World Wildlife Fund and recognized worldwide by its panda logo, WWF leads international efforts to protect endangered species and their habitats and to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. Now in its fifth decade, WWF, the global conservation organization, works in more than 100 countries around the world