Greenpeace today brought the reality of the oceans crisis directly to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting at the Estrel Hotel in Berlin. Delegates were brought face to face with the bodies of three harbour porpoises, representing 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises that die by drowning every year from accidental entanglement in nets.
Today the IWC withdrew a resolution that would have helped to reduce these bycatch deaths because it did not have the full support of the meeting.
"We want to see some real action to reduce these deaths," says Greenpeace oceans campaigner Richard Page. "We remind the IWC of their responsibility for all cetaceans, from large whales to small porpoises.
"The IWC s establishment of a conservation committee this year under the Berlin Initiative is a positive step. For it to make a real difference all IWC member countries must support the committee, resource it adequately and implement its recommendations without delay," says Page. The harbour porpoises presented to the meeting came from endangered populations in the Baltic Sea and showed clear marks and scars identifying them as fisheries bycatch. Fisheries bycatch is threatening the survival of the Central and Eastern population of Baltic harbour porpoise, which numbers no more than 600 animals. Of these, 20 were washed ashore dead last year and 6-7 are reported as dying every year in nets, but the real figure may be more. The population could be extinct in 20 years.
The annual bycatch of harbour porpoise in the Baltic and North seas and adjacent waters is estimated at 10,000 but many deaths go unrecorded. In the Danish set-net fleet alone the average annual bycatch is estimated to be 6,785. (1)
Greenpeace demands the IWC use the new Berlin Initiative to address bycatch and the other environmental threats facing whales, dolphins and porpoises like toxic pollution, ship strikes, noise pollution and continued commercial whaling. The conservation committee proposal received strong opposition from the whaling nations and their allies but was voted for by a majority of the IWC s 47 voting countries.
"The new committee must be held accountable for fulfilling its mandate bestowed by the IWC and the conservation efforts must apply to all whales, dolphins and porpoises," says Page "Top order predators like the harbour porpoise are crucial to the continued health of our ocean ecosystems. "
(1) Morten Vinther (1999) Bycatches of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena L.) in Danish set-net fisheries. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management Vol.1, No.2 123-135