Human Interaction

Whale Wars Is Japan Complying With Antarctic Treaty?

posted: 05/15/12

DR. CHARLOTTE EPSTEIN: "There's actually quite a lot of countries who claim a bit of Antarctica, alright, or who used to claim a bit of Antarctica. [...] But what's happened is that those claims have all been suspended under the Antarctic Treaty that was signed in 1959, where countries actually agreed that they were going to relinquish their claims of sovereignty, or at least suspend them. [...] The Antarctic Treaty System is about the common management of species, right, so it doesn't give any one country authority over Antarctica. That's important to recognize. It's about countries coming together and saying, this is in our common interest, and so we're gonna manage it together."

DR. DAVID CARON: "The Antarctic Treaty is a marvelous diplomatic invention. [...] The treaty is premised on the idea that all claims to the Antarctic are frozen. There are a number of claimant states to Antarctica. They have wedges of Antarctica. There are two countries that claim all of Antarctica: Russia and the United States. The rest are in sectors. The Antarctic Treaty operates by saying, from now on, no one will further their claim. So none of these countries have, in fact, given up their claims to Antarctica.

"A triumph of the Antarctic Treaty was that it early on stopped militarization of the Antarctic region. ... For example, any Coast Guard vessel going to Antarctica is to make ineffective its major weapons. It is also to be open to inspection by any parties from other members of the Antarctic Treaty. So it is a demilitarized area. Now, that does not mean, however, that there are not law enforcement weapons. You can have guns. It's the purpose for which you're doing things. It's the difference between a police and an army."

DR. TIMOTHY STEPHENS: "Now, it is, without any question, a very complicated legal situation in Antarctica. And what happened in 1959 was that the states of the world agreed to a treaty called the Antarctic Treaty, which literally puts sovereignty questions on Antarctica on ice. That's the cliché that's often used, and it's completely accurate. It basically means sovereignty claims in relation to Antarctica have been put on hold until the Antarctic Treaty comes to an end.

"Now, in that time, there's meant to be international cooperation in terms of looking after Antarctica, particularly in environmental matters. And one interesting issue is whether Japan, which is a party to the Antarctic Treaty System, is actually complying with its environmental obligations in terms of running a very large whaling program in the waters offshore Antarctica.

" Antarctic ecosystem is extraordinarily vulnerable and sensitive, and very small changes in some parts of the ecosystem can have massive impacts upon other parts. So if you were to allow very wide scale whaling in Antarctica, we just don't know what impact that would have on other parts of the food chain, other parts of the ecosystem. Just as we have to be worried about impacts on lower order parts of the ecosystem, things like krill, for instance.

"There's a growing body of evidence now that krill are being affected by climate change, by a thing called ocean acidification as carbon dioxide is soaked up by the cold water in the Southern Ocean. Now, we don't know where that's gonna lead, so what we have to do as an international community is to say we need to protect the Antarctic, all its values, from the big symbolic mega-fauna — the whale — right through to the tiny little krill, and insure that everything receives appropriate protection."

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