662.8F4/19: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom (Winant) to the Secretary of State

7905. Department’s 6804, October 30, re whaling conference. The Embassy had just received a communication from the Foreign Office enclosing a note prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries answering the questions raised in the Department’s telegram under reference.

In answer to the Department’s specific questions the British reply indicates that:

The agenda of the proposed conference would be the same as that outlined in the note to the Department from the British Embassy, [Page 1137] Washington, dated March 31, 1943. One or two additional points may be raised which will be discussed below:
The Governments invited to attend the conference are the following: Eire, Norway, Australia, United States, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Newfoundland, but not the Argentine as they were not considered to be interested in pelagic whaling. All the above Governments had accepted with the exception of the United States and Eire, the latter, according to the British note, “apparently did not consider, as they were not actively engaged in whaling operations, that the modifications which were proposed to be adopted were of sufficient importance to justify their sending representatives”.
With regard to the proposed amendments and the signing of an agreement at the conference the British note states, “It will be seen, therefore, that the possible amendments that have been suggested to the international agreement and the subsequent protocols are of a comparatively minor character and it was not proposed to amend the agreement at this stage by any formal document even if a majority of the above points were agreed mutually”.

With regard to the proposed amendments to be discussed which are numbered (a) to (e) inclusive in the British Embassy’s note of March 31, 1943, the British note just received makes the following comments:

“With regard to the modifications indicated in the preceding paragraph the following information is afforded.

The period during which whaling is permitted under the international agreement runs from 8th December to 7th March, but, in view of the great need for whale oil and the relatively small number of factory ships which can be operated in the immediate postwar period, it was felt by the United Kingdom that the period might, by mutual agreement, be extended for a certain period during the first year or so after the war. Three to five months was suggested, as above, but it is understood now that the Norwegian Government would be hostile to so great an extension but would be prepared to see the period 8th December to 7th March altered to 15th November to 15th March, or even to 31st March. Whales are not in good condition much before the beginning of December, while at the end of the season the weather begins to get bad.
The United Kingdom sees no reason why the requirements of article 11 should be literally imposed for the first season after the war, when the great urge will be to obtain whale oil. Only a limited number of expeditions will be operating and the urge to get oil should not be delayed by too rigid an enforcement of this requirement of the international agreement.
This suggestion was included at the request of the whaling industry. Under the original agreement a factory ship operating in the Antarctic was not allowed to engage in any other whaling operations elsewhere in the same year, and the United Kingdom are of opinion that this is a proper precaution and should not be relaxed, having regard to the still urgent need to preserve and maintain the whale stocks, particularly as any subsequent operations would be likely to be directed largely against humpbacks and whales carrying calves.
Objection is seen by the United Kingdom (and it is believed by Norway) to the proposed reduction of the minimum size for sperm whales.
The embargo on the taking of humpback whales was first included in the protocol to the international agreement of 1938 for one year and was continued by the 1939 conference for a further year. It has now lapsed, and it is considered expedient that it should be reimposed.

It is possible that at the forthcoming conference one or two additional points may be raised by delegates, but these should be capable of adjustment round the table without previous notice. One, for example, is that when it again becomes possible to hold annual international whaling conferences, a limit should be imposed on the number of blue whale units to be caught in any one season and the figure of 15,000 to 17,000 blue whale units has been mentioned. It is not possible that, with the few factory ships likely to be available in the first year after the war, anything like this number will be caught, but it is nevertheless considered desirable, both by the United Kingdom and the Norwegian Governments that the principle of putting a limit of the number of blue whale units to be caught should be ventilated at the earliest possible date, so that it may be brought into effective operation as soon as the number of factory ships increases and renders the imposition of a maximum quantity necessary. It may also be proposed to revive the provisions of article 2 of the 1938 protocol, creating a temporary sanctuary for baleen whales in the Antarctic.”

With reference to the proposal to limit the number of blue whale units to be caught in any one season it is believed that this is the Norwegian proposal discussed in Ambassador Biddle’s despatch No. 60 of August 17, 1943, on the subject of a possible whaling conference between representatives of Great Britain, the United States and Norway.

The following additional sections of the British note are quoted for the Department’s information:

“Consideration is now being given to the revival of whaling after the war, more especially from the point of view of the restrictions imposed by the existing international agreement. The whaling industry have suggested that, in the interests of the food supply of the world and especially the shortage of whale oil, whaling should be started and prosecuted to the fullest extent as soon as possible after the termination of hostilities, and they have even urged that the United Kingdom should denounce the agreement (as they can do prior to the 1st January in any one year) without prejudice to its resuscitation as soon as opportunity offers.

The United Kingdom (and in this they are known to be supported by Norway, the other great whaling country) are absolutely opposed to the denunciation of the international agreement, because in their view it would be extremely difficult to revive again after the war an agreement which was primarily designed to preserve the future stocks of whales. This is an especially important consideration because Japan, who were building up a whaling industry some years before [Page 1139] the war, were never parties to the international agreement, although at the 1939 conference they agreed to become participants at the end of that year: At a later stage after the war in Europe had broken out they decided to withhold participation.

It is important, however, that whaling should be resumed as soon as war conditions permit wtih a view to obtaining the maximum supplies of whale oil to replenish the present stocks, which are rapidly becoming exhausted, and, with that end in view, the position has been examined by the Departments of the United Kingdom concerned to see if there are any directions in which the international agreement could, by mutual consent and as a purely temporary measure be safely modified without imperilling the position. An invitation was accordingly sent by the Foreign Office to, inter alia, the British Ambassador in Washington on 11th March 1943, inviting the United States of America Government to participate in a whaling conference, which it was then contemplated would be held towards the end of that month …19

It should be clearly understood that the proposals for discussion at the suggested conference would be merely temporary modifications of the existing whaling agreements in order to meet the wholly abnormal circumstances which will exist at the termination of the war. Any modifications agreed on at the conference would operate only during the first season in which whaling operations are resumed (or at most the first two seasons). If it should be found that the acute shortage of whale oil continues for a longer period and that the number of expeditions available remains small, it might be desirable to extend the modifications for another season, but this would be possible only by agreement reached at a subsequent conference. In the absence of any such agreement the conditions imposed by the whaling agreements of 1937–1939 would again be fully operative (except those that have expired by lapse of time).

It is, in the opinion of the United Kingdom, of the utmost importance that these and other matters should be discussed in anticipation of the revival of whaling operations after the war, and it is equally important that this conference should be held before 1st January 1944, as otherwise the whaling industry will continue to press for a denunciation of the agreement before that date. Indeed, the longer the conference is left in abeyance and the decision of H. M. Government remains uncommunicated to the industry, the stronger will be their plea to scrap every vestige of control, in which case the whale stocks would be vitally affected, as they were being affected before the outbreak of war, owing to the inevitable delay which would occur before a new international whaling agreement could be concluded and ratified.”

In its covering letter the Foreign Office states, “You will see that we are particularly anxious that the conference should be held before January 1, 1944, and I sincerely hope that the United States Government will be able to meet our wishes in this matter.”

  1. Omission indicated in the original telegram.