Dick Russell’s speech at “Save the Whales Day” rally, Santa Monica, Calif., May 22, 2010

What is the International Whaling Commission thinking? How can they be on the verge of legitimizing rogue whaling, and how come the United States seems to be going along with this?

The global moratorium on commercial whaling that took effect almost 25 years ago has WORKED. The number of great whales being slaughtered each year has gone from about 38,000 down to between 1,000 and 2,000. That’s still too many, of course, under the guise of so-called “scientific whaling” by Japan, and flagrant violation of the moratorium by Iceland and Norway.

Every year, Japan has lobbied to include more species of whales in its quota, and they’ve succeeded in being allowed to take humpbacks and fin whales, sei whales and sperm whales. Every year Japan has continued to bribe small countries with big money grants, in exchange for their joining the IWC and voting with Japan.

Now the 88 member nations are likely going to vote in June on a so-called “compromise proposal” that, over the next decade, is supposed to reduce the total number of whales killed. That’s because right now those three rogue countries set their own limits, and under this plan they’d supposedly agree to IWC limits on their catches and do better monitoring and practice more humane whaling.

But let’s think about what allowing commercial whaling again really means. It legitimizes Iceland and Norway expanding their fleet in the North Atlantic. They would now be able to legally trade whale meat to Japan. It yields to Japan’s long-sought agenda – after years of opposition – to being able to do whaling along its own coastline. And commercial whaling would be allowed in a designated IWC sanctuary, the Southern Ocean.

This comes at a time when Iceland is strongly considering ENDING its whaling as part of an agreement to join the European Union. It comes at a time when Japan already didn’t meet its own allowed take in the Antarctic Southern Ocean, because the Sea Shepherds got out there and did an “intervention” that saved the lives of more than 500 whales.

Japan has already said this year that it’s not interested in cutting back the whaling in the Antarctic in return for being allowed to start commercial whaling in its own waters. Iceland has also said they’re not satisfied with the quotas being proposed. So what happens? Does the IWC cave in to their demands?

Now, if this proposal passes, South Korea is talking about starting its own coastal commercial whaling operation. We are looking at invigorated markets for whale meat, when most people – including the Japanese – have long since abandoned the practice. It’s this “scientific whaling” loophole that must be closed – instead of opening a whole new door that puts these incredible marine mammals in even greater jeopardy.

Think of what happened recently not far from here, when a high-end sushi restaurant called The Hump at the Santa Monica Airport got busted for illegally selling whale meat to its customers. Well, they ended up going out of business, but supposedly these same kinds of operations are going on in other American cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and New York. And people think allowing commercial sale of whales again is going to make that go AWAY?

We should be imposing trade sanctions on Japan, Iceland and Norway for already violating international laws. But this hasn’t happened since the Bush Administration. I still love Obama, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why his administration isn’t taking a stand like THAT – instead of supporting the reopening of commercial whaling, which Australia and New Zealand are adamantly against.

The simple fact is: Whaling has no place in the 21st century. It is inherently, unacceptably cruel. A barbaric and unnecessary practice.

Because of human activity, the whales are already in jeopardy in our time. There’s the deafening Navy sonar that drives them ashore, that the NRDC is fighting so hard to keep in check. Recently a gray whale – the same gray whales that migrate along this shoreline – was spotted on the wrong side of the world. Off the coast of Israel! There haven’t been gray whales anywhere but the Pacific Ocean since the 18th century, when they were hunted to extinction in the Atlantic. So it’s likely this lone whale came down through the ice-free Northwest Passage looking for food and became hopelessly lost. Already gray whales have to search for their food further north because the little amphipods they eat can’t live in the warmer Arctic waters. So a 5,000-mile migration turns into a 6,000 or 7,000 mile migration. And this year, like last year, the number of newborn calves is distressingly low.

A generation ago, gray whales started coming up to humans at their birthing grounds in Baja, in the same lagoon where these same humans almost hunted them to extinction a century earlier. The mothers started introducing their newborns to boatloads of tourists, allowing us to actually pet them, in an incredible act of forgiveness. And I’d like to close by reading a brief passage from the conclusion of my book about them, Eye of the Whale:

“As the oceans go, so go we. Can we survive global warming? Noise pollution? The wanton carelessness about our habitats? Can we pretend to endure anything that the whales cannot? Can we come to grips with the suicidal tendency to destroy what sustains us? Is this what the gray whales are reaching out to communicate?”

Write to President Obama and tell him the U.S. needs to change its position and keep the moratorium on commercial whaling in place at the IWC! (The annual meeting will be held in Morocco, June 21-27. For more information, and to sign a petition to the President, go to: www.earthisland.org/immp/antiWhaling.html)