12 September 2016, Honolulu — A rare case of intensive and decade-long collaboration between Big Oil, scientists and environmental activists has been hailed as a success story in protecting an endangered species of whale from extinction.
In the early 2000s, the western grey whale was thought to number about 115 off the island of Sakhalin in the Russian Far East where they would spend the ice-free summer months feeding before their winter migration. Sakhalin Energy, then majority-owned by Shell, announced plans to expand its oil and gas operations in those waters, kicking off a fierce campaign by NGOs, including WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others.
We started campaigning against this project but now we are part of it.” — Wendy Elliott, a biologist and senior campaigner at WWF-International
Protests failed to halt Sakhalin Energy but the NGOs crucially succeeded in persuading international banks to place tough conditions on their loans to the company. This included working with an independent group of scientists for the duration of the loans and projects to mitigate the impact on the whales.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature – the world’s largest environmental association of governments and NGOs – convened and administered what became known as the Western Grey Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP) made up of 13 independent scientists. That was in 2004. Ten years later and the grey whale population was estimated to have grown to 175.
This week, the IUCN, holding its World Conservation Congress in Honolulu, hailed the panel as a “fantastic example” of conservation and how business and environmentalists can work together. NGOs involved in the project agree.