Commercial Whaling

The International Whaling Commission (IWC)

Set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling The International Whaling Commission came into being in December 1946. The purpose of the Convention during these early days and the IWC was to provide for the proper management of whale stocks around the globe within the framework of an orderly exploitation of whale species through commercial whaling. Currently…

"…The main duty of the IWC is to keep under review and revise as necessary the measures laid down in the Schedule to the Convention which govern the conduct of whaling throughout the world. These measures, among other things, provide for the complete protection of certain species; designate specified areas as whale sanctuaries; set limits on the numbers and size of whales which may be taken; prescribe open and closed seasons and areas for whaling; and prohibit the capture of suckling calves and female whales accompanied by calves. The compilation of catch reports and other statistical and biological records is also required…"

Membership of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)

Any country that formally embraces the 1946 International Convention is eligible to join the IWC with member countries being represented by commissioners who have access to a number of advisers. The chair and vice chair, positions that run for three years, are chosen from among the commissioners of each member country. The headquarters of the IWC currently resides in Cambridge, UK. The annual meetings of the Commission take place in member countries by invitation or in the UK. Much criticism has been directed at the Commission due largely to its objection procedure. If a member country feels that a decision made by the commission is not in its national interest it may lodge an objection. The decision is then not binding on the government/s who objected. This had led to comments about the ineffectual nature of the commission and that it amounts to little more than a gentleman's club with little or no ability to influence the course of whaling now or in the future. Other's point out that it is all we have and that without these loopholes the Convention would never have been signed back in 1946 leading to the formation of the Commission. There are currently 78 nations making up membership of the International Whaling Commission, some of them land locked countries that have a tenuous claim to whaling activities!

Scientific Whaling and Whale Research

The IWC also coordinates research work done on whales and holds workshops on a number of issues such as humane methods of killing whales at sea through it's system of committees and sub-committees. It is through, what many consider to be a loophole in the system, that some countries continue large-scale hunting of whales today. Perhaps the most notorious is that of the so-called "scientific" hunt conducted by Japan, largely in the southern ocean whale sanctuary. Many consider this to be commercial hunting by another name and is conducted under an agreement enacted by the IWC that permitted member countries to conduct whaling for research purposes under the name of scientific whaling. Japan exploits this loophole and continues large scale whaling activities in the north pacific and most notably in the southern ocean whale sanctuary. During the last few years self allocated quotas for their scientific whaling programme have numbered nearly 1000 minke whales killed per season. The 2008 season brought a huge outcry from anti whaling lobbyists and governments alike when Japan announced that they were including 50 endangered fin whales and 50 threatened humpback whales in their research kill. Such was the outcry internationally and with added diplomatic pressure Japan backed down and humpbacks have been withdrawn from the proposed kill. Fin whales (50) remained on the target list along with 950 minke whales. The 2008 season saw a huge reduction in the quota allocated by Japan with interference for environmental groups in the southern ocean being cited as the reason with no fin whales being included in the kill.

Further information regarding the International Whaling Commission, the way it conducts its business and member countries may be obtained on the IWC website.

Humane Killing Methods for Whales

ALL research concludes that there is no way to reliably kill a large whale humanely at sea using the technology currently available. Large whales are caught by harpooning with an explosive grenade tipped harpoon. Wounded animals are variously dispatched using electric lances or high-powered rifles. Current research suggests that the average time to death of a minke whale is just over three (3) minutes. It is on the basis of this horrifically cruel method of killing that many anti whaling activists suggest that whaling programmes should be halted permanently.

Recent IWC Meetings

Recent meetings between the member countries of the IWC have been dogged with tension and acrimonious exchanges between commissioners of pro whaling nations and those nations opposed to whaling. This has largely been caused by a small number of countries trying to justify their current or future aspirations to resume commercial whaling. Accusations of vote rigging have been made as Japan has purchased votes in favour of a return to commercial whaling from smaller member countries in exchange for preferential trade agreements. This all takes place against the background of a worldwide moratorium on the killing of whales put in place by the IWC in 1986 as many of the great whale species faced extinction following years of commercial exploitation. Some species like the Northern right whale have never recovered and are likely to become extinct within a generation. Over the last few years the number of governments that vote in favour of a resumption of commercial whaling has increased in relation to those anti whaling nations and each year during the IWC annual meetings the tension rises as the pro whaling nations adopt a number of strategies to attempt to get the two thirds majority vote in favour of suspending the moratorium and commencing commercial whaling activities again. As most conservationists believe this would spell disaster for many species of great whale as commercial whaling activities in the past has been dogged by over exploitation and lack of controls resulting in so many species being bought to the verge of extinction.

Current Whaling Activities

In spite of the moratorium being put in place by the IWC in 1986 whales and dolphins are still being hunted and killed. There are those that are authorized by the IWC as part of a subsistence or aboriginal hunt. Although many still employ cruel techniques most commentators would agree that these hunts do not constitute a threat at the species level and are not likely to reduce numbers significantly.

Japan currently conducts whaling activities under the loophole of scientific whaling. When the moratorium was put in place in 1986 Japan opposed it and they were permitted an annual catch under scientific whaling permits for so-called research purposes. These lethal research protocols were required, according to Japan, to determine breeding cycles, feed intake and growth patterns. This was to target the small rorqual, the minke whale and other North Pacific species, which included beaked whales and sperm whales. In recent years Japan, in what is largely considered to be a not so subtle drive to get commercial whaling reinstated by the IWC, have increased their scientific kill of minke whales to just under 1000 animals which does not include the North Pacific kills of beaked whales and sperm whales. As part of their scientific kill for 2007/2008 their stated intention was to include 50 of the still endangered fin whales and 50 threatened humpbacks. This caused a huge international outcry and Japan has subsequently backed down and withdrawn the license to kill humpbacks but have indicated that they will start killing humpbacks in one or two years time. The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was formally adopted in December 1994 to provide an area south of 40 degrees south in which the natural restoration of ecosystems could occur including the great whales. Not surprisingly Japan was the ONLY country out of 24 to oppose the creation of the SOS. Japan continues to kill whales south of the 40th parallel. Japan justifies its whaling programme by claiming it is an ancient custom and part of their cultural identity. With a declining appetite for whale meat and failure to stimulate interest through advertising campaigns many people believe it is more about politics that cultural tradition.

Norway never recognized the existence of the moratorium and continues to hunt minke whales in the North Atlantic commercially. Their self-allocated quota of just over 1000 animals is rarely achieved in spite of lengthening the season, which may indicate a decline in North Atlantic minke whale numbers currently thought to stand at around 40,000. As the taste for whale meat declines in Norway, much of the blubber from the minke whales killed is now burnt, as there is no ready market for this part of the whale.

Iceland has been conducting a kill of North Atlantic minke whales for the past few years and in 2006 announced a resumption of commercial whaling targeting the fin whale. This was in contravention of the moratorium currently in place. Such was the damage to their tourist industry and the image of the country elsewhere in Europe and the inability to get the ban on the International trade in whale products lifted that the license to kill fin whales was withdrawn in 2007 with around five animals having been needlessly killed.

In spite of recent poll indicating that around 70% of the Danish population does not support commercial whaling the government of Denmark voted in favour of a resumption of commercial whaling at the 2006 IWC meeting. They also supported the outdated notion that whales are responsible for the depletion in the world's fish stocks. Fish stocks are in decline around the globe due to the inherently unsustainable fishing methods employed by the worlds fishing fleets and a recent study in the well respected journal Science reports that all commercially fished species will collapse by 2050 if we do not change the way in which fish stocks are harvested.

What can you do to support a stop to whaling activities…?

There are a number of ways you can be involved and try to influence the whaling nations of the world. Support for environmental groups who get involved and directly by making your views known to people in Government or positions of power or influence. Always be polite but firm in your resolve.

There are two key environmental organizations that directly intervene in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary whale hunt and bring this to the attention of the world's media, Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd.

The longstanding environmental organization Greenpeace may be visited at the following site where they have a number of ideas for participating in the anti whaling campaign:

Formed by the veteran wildlife and oceans environmental campaigner Paul Watson, Sea Shepherd is a very active group and may be visited at the following site where they suggest ways in which you can get involved in the anti whaling campaign:

Other ways to help influence decision makers…

  • Ask your local supermarket where you buy your groceries if any of the products you are buying are produced by or exported from countries that support or practice the killing of whales and dolphins. The check out girl/boy may look at you a little blankly but ask to see the store manager every time and tell him why you are asking and if you decide not to buy a certain product ask them if they would consider not stocking it.
  • Think again about going to any of these countries on holiday or using any of these countries national airlines, where they still have one. Tell your travel agent why you do not want to travel by these national airlines. Write to the airline and tell them that you may not be using their services until their country abides by international convention and stops unnecessary whaling activities.
  • Write to the ambassador of JAPAN, ICELAND and NORWAY in your country and inform them that you may consider imposing a total ban on the purchase of their exported products, a total ban on the use of their airlines and a total ban of taking holidays in their country both personally and within your respective organizations. Tell them what a joyous day it will be when we can welcome them back into the international community following their cessation of whaling activities and the adoption of a more environmentally sound attitude.
  • Think again about buying your new car or commercial vehicle from a company representing those countries involved in whaling activities. Write and tell them why you may not be purchasing their vehicles and that as soon as the country concerned stops whaling activities this will all change.
  • Write to your own environment ministers and enquire what action they and your country are doing to see an end to whaling activities. They are accountable to you, ensure they appreciate that point.
  • Ask any conservation organizations you may belong to what they are doing to get across the message to it's country's leaders that killing whales and dolphins is unsustainable, cruel and unnecessary. All to often these small conservation groups may take your subscription and then do little to put across the greater conservation message. Ask what they propose to do and say.

Always remember when writing or emailing anybody, be very polite but confident in your views. Copy in as many people as possible so that everybody appreciates the level of feeling and commitment you are putting into your communication.

Good luck. The whales and dolphins of this world need your help and the fact that we humans are still killing the last few remnants of the once vast whale stocks that filled our seas has caused divisions and acrimony between nations and people that needs to stop.

We should all be working together to make whaling a distant memory and getting down to the very real need to address climate change and the other negative impacts we have on the environment.

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