Our nation’s migration from world leader in commercial whaling to world leader in whale conservation was an amazing American journey. And the global ban on commercial whaling, adopted 30 years ago this year, with strong personal support from President Ronald Reagan, is one of the most important environmental legacies of his generation. Like the whales it sought to protect, that tremendous conservation track record is now at risk. But there is reason for hope.
After two years of dangerous drift in its approach, the Obama administration has made a course correction and is now continuing this proud tradition of American leadership, adopting a series of measures to persuade the government of Iceland to end its illicit whaling activities and taking a more consistent, pro-conservation approach at the International Whaling Commission.
This is good policy and good politics. Eighty-nine percent of American voters want their government to help enforce the worldwide ban on commercial whaling. Seventy-seven percent want Congress and the administration to undertake a broader whale conservation program to address the wider array of threats facing whales in the 21st century.
Such a program will be advanced this week in the House Natural Resources Committee room, where a new “Blueprint for Whale Conservation” will be released. The result of 18 months of effort, building on recommendations from across the conservation community, this new blueprint presents a threat-by-threat road map for policymakers concerned with protecting whales in U.S. waters and worldwide.
America is a nation proud of our whaling heritage, of “iron men in wooden boats” who set to sea and returned with the oil that lit the lamps of the western world. Now, after two centuries of commercial whaling and a host of other conservation challenges, our nation can again lead the world in whale protection.
We have a generational opportunity and a moral obligation to do so. For mariners and land-lubbers, misty-eyed whale huggers and jaded political animals alike, the way forward is clear. We can save the whales in the 21st century.
Patrick R. Ramage is whale program director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.