The status of blue whales in
International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), an international agreement that is aimed at the “proper conservation of whale stocks and thus makes possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.” The objective of the convention is to protect all whale species from overhunting, to ensure proper conservation and development of whales’ population, and to preserve the important natural resources for future generations. The primary body implementing objectives indicated in the convention is the International Whaling Commission that holds annual meetings and monitors catch limits, whaling methods, protected areas, and scientific research conduct.
There are currently 89 signatories of this convention and 8 countries that were initially members of the convention expressed their withdrawal. These countries include Canada, Egypt, Greece, Jamaica, Mauritius, the Philippines, Seychelles, and Venezuela. Moreover, Belize, Brazil, Dominica, Ecuador, Iceland, Japan, New Zealand, and Panama withdrawn from the convention after ratification but later on, ratified it a second time. However, Japan expressed the objection to the convention again in 2019.
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) is a multilateral treaty, which protects endangered plants and animals and is intended to regulate, control, prohibit, or limit international trade of endangered or threatened species. CITES protects approximately 5800 species of animals and 30 000 species of plants against over-exploitation through international trade. CITES lists each species under one of the three Appendices dependent on the level of being threatened by international trade, thus, those Appendices provide different levels of protection for species listed under the particular Appendix.
CITES provides protection to the species of a blue whale listing them under Appendix I. Appendix I lists threatened with extinction species or species that may be affected by international trade. With that being said, blue whales cannot be used in commercial trade but permitted only in exceptional cases with the approved license. Any other trade of the blue whales requires export and import permits.
Another international law instrument that relates to blue whales, although not animal-focused, is the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). It sets out the provisions regarding regulation in high seas and establishes general duties to “protect and preserve the marine environment in the maritime zones and high seas areas.” The positive side of the UNCLOS is that it is binding to all countries because customary law is enshrined in the treaty. UNCLOS does not provide the conservation and management regulations with regard to animals, but it requires all countries to exercise a “‘total allowable’ catch based upon an established ‘maximum sustainable yield.’”
UNCLOS contains only broad provisions and requires countries to cooperate directly or through international organizations. The reason for this convention to be crucial for blue whales and other aquatic animals is that general rules of public international law provide that the coastal country has the greater authority over the closest maritime area, otherwise known as territorial waters.” Beyond them, there are contiguous zone, exclusive economic zone, and high seas. In the high seas, a territory not belonging to any of the countries, it is allowed to exercise fishing. And, although it is allowed to enjoy freedom in those areas, countries have a duty to take necessary steps for the conservation and management of living resources while exercising any activity.
Convention on Migratory Species
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS Convention), an international treaty aimed at the conservation of migratory species within their migratory ranges, where one of the fundamental principles is to acknowledge the importance of migratory species and the necessity to take actions to improve the conservation status, which would be favorable for the species of wild animals and their habitat. Similar to CITES, CMS has Appendices with different levels of protection.
Appendix I lists migratory species threatened with extinction where Parties are bound by the duty to ensure strict protection of species. Parties are also bound to prevent taking animals belonging to such species, except for the taking for scientific purposes, for accommodating the needs of traditional subsistence users of such species, for enhancing the propagation or survival of the affected species, and extraordinary circumstances. Appendix II includes migratory species that have unfavorable conservation status and that would significantly benefit from international cooperation, and these species serve as the basis for the establishment of regional or global instruments under the treaty. Therefore, Parties shall strive to conclude agreements that would be beneficial and would “give priority to the species in an unfavorable conservation status.”
With regard to blue whales, they are considered migratory animals, usually migrating seasonally between summer feeding grounds and winter breeding grounds. CMS has issued a document stating the effect of climate change on blue whales.