The first thing that greets anyone arriving in Anchorage is a very large stuffed bear in the entrance lounge of the airport. It’s become clear that the bear is an indicator species of the lay of the land for the increasing and obvious madness of the US and the International Whaling Commission meeting.
At the Captain Cook Hotel, where the convention meeting is being held, NGOs and delegates were greeted with a veritable army of security police, all armed to the teeth. The receptionist at the front desk told me the hotel would be blocked off that afternoon for security reasons. A further enquiry revealed that Greenpeace would be holding a parade that afternoon in a nearby park, an event considered to be a major security threat. Later on, I discovered that the US Government had outlaid $750,000 to cover the event and that members of the Secret Service were in fact marching with the mums, dads and kids. In case of any likely attack, snipers were apparently on the rooftop of the hotel. Oh, and let’s not forget the sniffer dogs on patrol as well.
No IWC meeting has ever looked like this.
The madness continues as the meeting progresses. Each day, delegates must run the gauntlet of dozens of security officers, swiping their way through the electronic safeguards into the crowded meeting room. Dr William Hogarth, of National Marine and Fisheries Service, is chairing the meeting. There are not nearly enough chairs and it’s clear from the opening speeches that consensus will be the order of the day, an unheard of situation. Further, if any country, particularly Japan, dares to oppose the bowhead quota for the native Alaskans, the full might of the US will descend.
Delegates have been treated to the extraordinary sight of consensus reigning supreme, witnessing Japan agree to the bowhead quota and even going so far as to say they are open to dialogue on the vexed and highly controversial humpback quota.
Japan does not have the numbers this year to do any damage. But the push to keep the door open to resume commercial whaling is not over. Why is this so? An unholy alliance between Japan and the US has allowed the IWC to descend into chaos. In the past, the US threat of trade sanctions stopped Japan’s excesses. But trade sanctions are now not an option because of globalisation and the Bush administration’s desperate push to have free trade in anything and everything.
A close examination of the trade relations between Japan and the anti-whaling nations reveals that Japan has them all by the economic balls.
The US fears trade sanctions against its beef, Australia is negotiating a free trade agreement which is supposed to bring $40 billion to our economy. Japan also believes that if it stops whaling, the next cab off the rank is fish as it is the world’s largest exploiter. As well, oil is a big reason for the US giving up its position as the world’s only real whaling policeman. The oil and gas industry want to exploit the oceans and if the focus is on Japanese whaling, all the better.
Meanwhile, the Japanese have been pushing whale meat on the school kids in an effort to get rid of the mountains of whale meat in storage.
So in this city of stuffed bears, stuffed foxes, furs, mountains of reindeer meat, buffalo and hunters galore, the drama plays out.
Malcolm Turnbull strode through the corridors yesterday as though he owned the world and then told the Japanese that they should not kill the humpbacks because we found one of their subs in Sydney Harbour and have turned it into a war grave.
Everyone is being very nice to everyone else. The Alaskans got their bowhead quota, the gray whale quota has been given to the Russian natives, and Greenland is after the humpbacks. There’s a good possiblity that Japan will relinquish its humpback quota, and, hopefully . Hopefully, Australians wont worry about the remaining 17,000 minkes and 800 fin whales which will be slaughtered in the Antarctic Southern Ocean Sanctuary.
And the reward for being cooperative with the Americans might just be a quota for Japan’s coastal communities which the Japanese Government has been fighting for for years.
Whaling is breaking out all over under all sorts of guises and new descriptions. We are all waiting for the other shoe to drop and to find out what deals the US has brokered to make this convention meeting work. All the while, major issues like global warming, the massive seismic exploration in the Arctic Circle and the appalling environmental contamination of gray whales, seals, walruses, birds and fish is being ignored.
Yes, the stuffed bear is a great icon for Anchorage and this IWC meeting.