Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Today's IUCN announcement that humpback whales have been down-listed from Vulnerable to Least Concern in the Red List of threatened species reminds me of a remark I heard from one of the former Environment Ministers of a Western country who attended the Symposium "A Change in Climate for Whales: Is there a Common Way Forward?" which we organized in January this year on behalf of Pew at UN University, Tokyo: "If I was still in politics, I'd show the whales I've saved; not the whales whalers are still killing", he said.

Indeed, the humpback downlisting shows the effectiveness of measures to prevent the hunting of whales and the need to continue the moratorium on commercial whaling. Humpbacks have been protected since 1965; but the moratorium protecting other commercially hunted species which Japan's current "scientific" hunts target came into force in 1986 only.

Although in general terms, the IUCN Red List down-listing shows that whale conservation efforts can be success stories, it remains true that while the levels of certain populations (or stocks) of humpbacks are increasing, they remain far from the original population (I've heard of an estimate as high as 1.5 million which is certainly pushing it, but this gives a good idea of the contrast with the figure of around 40,000 now), and not all stocks show the same encouraging signs (for example, the Oceania stock, a potential target of the Japanese "scientific" hunt, remains in the "Endangered" category).

New and emerging threats to whales linked to the impact of climate change in polar and other regions, noise and toxic pollution, entanglement in fishing nets and ship strikes also call for utmost precaution.

Anyway, one thing is sure: today's announcement vindicates the fact that we, all the conservationists who've been involved with whales over the years, have not wasted our time.

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