Friday, May 21, 2010

Whales' wealth

Tomorrow, 22nd of May, has been designated by the United Nations as the International Day of Biodiversity. So it's quite appropriate that I'm writing this piece surrounded with frogs and colibris in a park in Santo Domingo de Heredia, Costa Rica.

I'm also surrounded with representatives of the governments of the so-called Buenos Aires Group of Latin American countries who've been meeting here this week to discuss their strategy, four weeks before the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

Since 2005, the Buenos Aires Group (now made up of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, El Salvador, Uruguay, and Venezuela) coordinates the position of its members at the IWC. Latin America acts as a block to promote the end of scientific whaling by Japan in the IWC-designated Southern Ocean sanctuary, and to propose the establishment of an other international whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic.

This year's International Day of Biodiversity is dedicated to Biodiversity, Development and Poverty Alleviation, a theme which is at the heart of the work of the Buenos Aires Group. The Latin American countries object to the fact that a distant fleet that belongs to one of the richest countries on Earth sails annually across the globe to depossess developing countries of whales whose migration from Antarctica to the Latin American shores brings to local populations increasing wealth and other benefits and opportunities for sustainable development, including tourism.

In the last 25 years, pursuant to the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling which entered into force in 1986 and thanks also to the rise of democracy and public participation in decision-making, Latin America has seen a paradigm shift which has transformed the region (formerly a satellite for Japanese-controlled land-based whaling factories established in the corrupt military dictatorships of Brasil, Chile and Peru) into the host of a flowerishing whale watching industry of great benefit for sustainbale development.

Pro-whaling advocates argue that whaling and whale-watching can co-exist side-by-side. In Western countries, urban families may take kids to visit cattle farms and enjoy a burger the next minute, so what's the difference? they say. The difference is that the Buenos Aires Group and other anti-whaling countries consider that whale watching is their management option, and that whaling interests should not fiddle with it. Experts in cetacean behaviour also strongly object to the notion that whaling and whale watching can co-exist: according to their observations whales used to the presence of innocent whale watching vessels become easier preys for the whaling boats, and -- on the opposite -- whale pods aware of the existence of whaling vessels become fearful and elusive to whale watching boats.

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