Human Interaction

Whale Wars Can IWC Resolutions Be Enforced?

posted: 05/15/12

Animal Planet presents this feature as a conversation with legal scholars. We draw no conclusions, other than that reasonable legal minds differ on these issues.

DR. CHARLOTTE EPSTEIN: "... First of all, international waters — it's important to remember — don't belong to anyone. So there isn't much control on what's going on in international waters. That was one of the problems with whaling initially. That's why the IWC was created in the first place.

"And now it's probably one of the problems with the sort of the level of violence that tends to occur on these international waters. It escapes a lot of scrutiny. And because there is, might I add, a sort of general sympathy towards what Paul Watson is doing — sympathy that I think one can question — there is a tendency to ... maybe cast a blind eye or something."

DR. TIMOTHY STEPHENS: "Is the International Whaling Sanctuary being enforced? Well, the answer is no, because it doesn't apply to scientific whaling, right. And so Japan says that it can have this loophole. In relation to national sanctuaries — and this is the other issue — a number of states have basically put in place whaling sanctuaries in the waters they claim in Antarctica.

So Australia, which claims 42 percent of Antarctica, has an Australian Whale Sanctuary offshore Antarctica out to 200 nautical miles. Now, Australia does not enforce Australian law in that area against non-Australian nationals. Why doesn't Australia do that? Because the Antarctic Treaty makes it clear that you can't enforce national law against non-nationals, and Australia is very worried about a diplomatic incident.

And it would be the same for any government down there. They're just not wanting to trample over the Antarctic Treaty System, which is a really delicate diplomatic compromise. They're not gonna throw everything out in terms of pushing any particular national agenda.

So Australia, for instance, in the past enforced the law against the late Steve Irwin in relation to activities he was undertaking there in terms of filming a documentary. Australia investigated. [...] But when you look at ... activities like Japanese whaling, I just can't see any prospect of the Australian government enforcing Australian law in Antarctica because of the trouble that would cause in the Antarctic Treaty System...

It's very difficult I think, impossible, for countries themselves to enforce the law in Antarctica. So that means we have to look at other more creative options for insuring that Japan and any other state, for that matter, complies with its obligations in Antarctica. And one way that can be achieved is actually through the Antarctic Treaty System, because the Antarctic Treaty System has a protocol, which was agreed in 1991, called the Madrid Environmental Protocol, which is meant to preserve Antarctica as a realm of environmental protection forever.

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