Whaling and Wandering in London

The Thames of London, even though it’s a whole lot cleaner than it used to be, is hardly a habitat for great whales, yet there is a lot of talk about them when nations around the world send delegates to meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Formed in 1946 to provide for the conservation and management of whale stocks, the commission has its headquarters in Impington, a village near Cambridge in England. Canada is one of some 88 member countries. Only a few countries engage in whaling today but it remains a highly emotional subject.
A Canadian delegation took an active part in IWC deliberations in London in June 1935, and I attended, mainly to gauge the nature and extent of controversy then surrounding this issue. Delegate discussions dealt largely with scientific studies of whale populations and the impact of whaling operations in that period.

Federal fisheries policies at the time focused on conservation concerns, seeking to ensure the protection of whale stocks, but with growing awareness of campaigns by anti-whaling interests.

Several outspoken opponents of whaling attended the meeting and used every opportunity to present their views. One notable individual was a New Zealand scientist, Dr. Paul Spong, who began whale research at the Vancouver Aquarium, primarily focused on a killer whale named Skana, and became a leading Greenpeace activist. What I did not expect was hearing the highly biased views of some American government officials whose anti-whaling sentiments proved even more extreme than those of protest groups.

Lancaster House interior

Lancaster House interior

Officials at Canada House on Trafalgar Square, particularly Press Officer Don Peacock, provided helpful support to me and other Fisheries staff attending the IWC meeting. Canadian High Commissioner Barry Mawhinney led a group of us at a stately reception held at Lancaster House in St. James Park, tendered by the British Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

For the IWC meeting, I stayed within walking distance at St. Ermin’s Hotel on Caxton Street, a most impressive building. Almost across the street I discovered another imposing structure, bearing identification as New Scotland Yard. After the meeting, I had to settle for less grandiose accommodations at the Athenaeum Hotel.

Sight seeing in London, meanwhile, was an entirely enjoyable experience, partly accompanied by Fishing News International editor Peter Hjul whom I had met two years previously at an international fisheries conference in Vancouver. One locale he made sure to show me was London’s famous Billingsgate Fish Market. He also welcomed me to his office and on a tour of Fleet Street, then still a thriving journalistic centre.

I also had the pleasure of spending time with my good friend Cy Fox who was then on the staff of Reuters News agency on Fleet Street, and sporting a G.K. Chesterton moustache.

Places of interest I visited during my stay included Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Tate Gallery, The Tower of London, and many more.

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