Caribbean Debate: Whaling or Whale-watching?

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The BBC reports today that Australia and New Zealand intend to demonstrate that whales do not have to be killed to be studied. Ministers said the expedition would improve understanding of whale populations and their ecological role. Australia’s environment minister Peter Garret said that it would help prove that Japan’s scientific whaling – the killing of whales to study – is unnecessary. Some Eastern Caribbean countries which support Japan’s pro-whaling aspirations have found themselves caught up in the whaling controversy at the International Whaling Commission’s annual summit.

Debate in the Caribbean has been going on for the past decade. Dominica has taken a lead in saying no to whaling ventures in Caribbean waters [see previous post, Join Greenpeace in saying thank you to Dominica.] Sadly, the governments of Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines voiced their support for Japanese whaling activities as recently as 2008 at the annual IWC summit held in Santiago, Chile.

However, support for Japanese whaling interests seems to be based predominantly on economic factors. In 2001, Greenpeace reported that polls showed that people living in the Caribbean countries that are members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) would approve of the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary: Antigua (47% for, 7% against); St Kitts & Nevis (60% to 7%); Dominica (66% to 9%; Grenada (53% to 14%), and St Lucia (47% to 15%). Even in St Vincent, a country with a whaling tradition, those supporting the vote on the establishment of the SPWS outnumbered those opposing it by a ratio of 2 to 1 (51% compared to 26%). Later, at the IWC meeting in Adelaide, all of the countries surveyed voted against the creation of the sanctuary.  Apparently, these countries adopted this position in return for aid from Japan.

Fortunately, since support for whaling is in fact tied to financial issues, other alternatives have gained momentum. Lord Michael Ashcroft is one of the leaders in presenting options. Since 2007, he has commissioned an unprecedented advertising campaign which he hopes will persuade the Caribbean nations to vote against whale hunting. He believes that, with the minor exception of aboriginal subsistence whaling, there is no justification on either scientific or commercial grounds for the killing of some of the world’s most beautiful creatures. This campaign and other similar efforts by like-minded groups have been successful in promoting whale-watching as a more humane and constructive income-producing venture. As Laura Sangster points out in the Caribbean Travel News blog, “whale watching is a $300 million industry.” Visitors can now go whale watching in a number of Caribbean countries including Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

For full articles related to whaling and whale watching, see http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/media/press-releases/mori-poll-shows-that-eastern-caribbean-public-supports-south-pacific-whale-sanctuary, http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/ashcroft-whales.html#cr, and http://www.caribbeanwhalefriends.org/index.htm

For more information about whale watching, see http://caribbeantravelnews.blogspot.com/2009/06/caribbean-whale-friends.html

Photo from http://www.exploringdominica.com/whale-watching.html

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