Amsterdam Monday 8th March, 6.38 p.m.
‘THE UGLY specter of whaling again.’ Mark Stafford, hands behind his head, tie loosened and top collar button undone, leant back in the chair. After all these years, Greenpeace thought this area of conservation was finally under control? But today’s report had changed that. ‘Why? Damn it. Why now?’
He put his feet on an open drawer of his desk and gazed out his office window at the final sunlight vanishing into dusk at the end of the autumn day.
His thoughts reviewed the past as the only possible indicator of the present. When the major whaling nations came together in 1946 they negotiated a convention to regulate whaling. From this, the International Whaling Commission emerged. It held its first meeting in 1949. But it didn’t have any authority or power to control. So little happened to save the whales. In fact, competition between the whaling countries to take as many of the big mammals as possible led to the early years of IWC control being dubbed the Whaling Olympics.
He poured himself a mineral water and took a sip. The tide didn’t begin to turn for the whales for another twenty-three years. The United Nations Human Environment conference in Stockholm in 1972 called for an immediate ten year moratorium on commercial whaling. Mark smiled to himself. He remembered that. It made front cover of Time, which he had read on his first overseas flight to England. Funny how some things stick in your mind.
Anyway, for the next decade, the IWC resisted the pressure, and finally agreed to a moratorium in 1982. It was not put it in place until 1985. ‘Jesus, that’s thirty-six years. A third of a century!’
Thank God for Greenpeace. David McTaggart had based a good part of Greenpeace’s original mission on the saving of whales. However, Greenpeace maintains that two serious loopholes created at the original whaling convention meeting in 1946 are still unplugged. The first, the ‘Objection’ clause, allows any member state to formally object to a decision and, therefore, not be bound by it. The second was an article allowing any member state to kill whales for ‘scientific’ purposes regardless of any protective measures that might be in place.’
‘Now what had Petra told him? Yes, that’s right, using these two loopholes, the whaling countries had killed nearly fourteen thousand whales in the first five years of the moratorium. And more than ninety per cent of these had been the little minke whales.’
Darkness had entered the room like a shroud covering the remains of a dying species. Mark continued his reverie, brought on by his natural instinct of abhorrence of the ‘justified’ slaughter of these magnificent mammals. ‘Japan, Norway and the Soviet Union exercised their rights to object and continued whaling after the moratorium came into effect.’
‘At the same time, Iceland and Korea, who did not object, began long term scientific whaling programs. Both their programs ceased in 1989, for which Greenpeace could claim considerable credit.’ He smiled to himself. We are good, dammed good. Our efforts forced Norway and USSR to quit full-scale commercial operations in 1987 and Japan abandoned large-scale whaling the next year.’
‘But it may have been too late. IWC estimate that there are somewhere between two hundred and eleven hundred individuals left of the largest animal that ever lived--the blue whale. Before the advent of industrial whaling it was estimated that there were two hundred and fifty thousand of this giant mammal in the world’s oceans. And of the sperm whale, which once numbered in 1964 about three hundred and thirty thousand in the southern oceans, somewhere between two hundred thousand and two hundred and ninety five thousand remain.’
He paused. A shiver of disgust and dismay ran through his body. ‘Such appalling carnage in the guise of commercial progress!’ He finished his Perrier. ‘The position with whaling was always tenuous at the best. At the 1990 IWC conference it was agreed to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the effects of the moratorium. However, with the scientists unable to agree among themselves about the relative health of the whale populations, other conservation groups back up Greenpeace’s fear that there could be a return to full commercial whaling. God forbid that Japan has started now!’
His mind reeled with the enormity of the possible consequences. Suddenly he recalled David McTaggart’s words, written almost thirty years ago. “Few men had the opportunity that I now have to set a precedent in international law, which could apply at least one brake against the otherwise apparently unstoppable gallop towards some kind of nuclear holocaust.”’
‘Perhaps this is my opportunity to apply a brake against the extermination of whales.’ Mark felt the surge of pride and the glow of anticipation. ‘Yes, we’ll get the bastards this time.’ He smiled in expectation. ‘Greenpeace has won through in the past and we will win again.’
He looked at his desk clock, its numbers luminous green in the darkness. ‘I’d better give David a call. I want to know how good this fellow Daroux is, and whether he’s available.’