Is the Whaling Ban Really the Best Way to Save the Whales?

By Aline Reynolds | June 26, 2009 4:34 pm

minke whale 2As the International Whaling Commission wound down this week with no progress made on the stalemate between pro-whaling and anti-whaling nations, some experts are beginning to question the commission’s central tool: the moratorium on commercial whaling established more than 20 years ago.Some experts wonder whether the ban is really protecting the world’s whale populations. Japan’s so-called “scientific whaling” program is a loophole in the ban, and the program is widely seen as a cover for commercial whaling. Japan catches more than 1,000 whales a year, and most cetacean researchers argue that whale populations exist at only a fraction of their former abundance and are far from large enough to sustain commercial harvesting for meat or oil — or even the culling of some 1,000 whales a year for science. Australia, a party to the IWC, campaigned this year to end any “scientific whaling” that involves the deliberate killing of whales [Science News].

A report released by the commission on Monday also states that a quarter of the whales harvested from the Antarctic Ocean in the last seven months by Japanese researchers were pregnant. To many, the destruction of these whales and their unborn calves makes a mockery of the moratorium on whaling, given that the goal of the ban is to preserve whale populations. However, the Japanese Whaling Association contends on its Web site that “No whales have ever been hunted to extinction, nor are they likely to be. . . . [And] there are species which are abundant enough that marine management is needed,” such as for the Antarctic and northwestern Pacific minke whales and northwestern Pacific Bryde’s whales [Science News].

Some on the International Whaling Commission have proposed lifting the ban. Although this may seem counterintuitive, the logic behind this is that Japan’s hunts, conducted under a clause in the whaling convention that gives any country the right to hunt as many whales as it wants for scientific research, are essentially unregulated…. [Commission member William Hogarth says] the scientific whaling clause encourages large hunts in order to get enough samples to draw scientifically valid conclusions [BBC News]. The way to make the policy change work, he says, would be to prohibit large-scale commercial whaling while permitting small-scale hunting for a local population.

While the Japanese claim whaling as an important cultural tradition, it’s also a lucrative business: Marine biologist Scott Baker notes that adult minke whales can sell for more than $100,000 each. In a study that will be published in the journal Animal Conservation, Baker suggests that large numbers of coastal minkes are incidentally caught in commercial fising boats’ nets while they’re pursuing other fish. He notes that with minke prices being what they are, “you have to wonder how many of these whales are in fact killed intentionally.” … Researchers suspect the high numbers of minke by-catch may be more than accidental. Japan and South Korea are the only two IWC members that allow whales snagged as by-catch to be sold commercially [The Christian Science Monitor].

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • Chris Butler-Sroud

    Despite what Dr Hogarth, the outgoing IWC Chairman says, the moratorium has meant that whales have been given a chance. The whaling industry has been held at bay to be able to wither and come close to dying on the vine. Over the last few years we have seen the big Japanese commercial companies throwing in the towel and handing the large scale whaling all over to the government to run (and the taxpayer to pay for) and the one coastal whaling company left is only able to do so because of subsidies and ‘scientific whaling’ contracts – whilst they have had to resort to selling whale meat for pet food to make ends meet.

    Norway has had a disastrous year, having to end its hunt because of a lack of demand, and Iceland’s Hvalur and its associated companies are loosing fish market share in Europe as I write. And, for the first time the international community is beginning to wake up to the fact that not every claim in the name of an Inuit cause for more whales is as legitimate as another.

    No, I think the moratorium has been a good thing and it will mean an eventual end to this practice. It’s time for the IWC to turn to those peoples that have at least a legitimate claim for hunting whales, and the USA and others need be able to tell the difference between these claims. Its time the IWC worked out what it means when it says its supports Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW).

    What Dr Hogarth talks about in terms of compromise is rewarding the years of blackmail through ‘scientific’ whaling and whaling under objection. Is modern environmental negotiation about blackmail, or establishing a principle and seeing it through to the end?

    Leadership in such a fora as the IWC does not mean giving into everyone, it means deciding what is right for the 21st Century and fighting for those principles. So maybe its time for the moratorium to go, but only to be replaced a full ban on commercial whaling once and for all – and maybe its time for the USA and the European Union to take up that challenge, not quietly but openly and with conviction.

    As long as there is a glimmer of hope as cherished and championed by the likes of Dr Hogarth, then the whalers will hang in there for a while longer. Lets just hope that glimmer is fading fast – just as their markets are.

  • timmy

    “I think the moratorium has been a good thing and it will mean an eventual end to this practice. ”

    So why is it called a “moratorium” instead of a “ban”, if that’s what was really wanted?

    The fact that there are more whales being hunted today than 20 years ago indicates to me that whaling is here to stay. The correct approach is to bring it under international oversight so that everyone can be comfortable that it is sustainable.

  • Woody Tanaka

    I think that the sooner that the USA gets behind a total ban of whaling, and is willing to put the vast resources of the US Navy behind that ban, the better. I would like to see nothing more than the end of all whaling in the world. If it can be done without putting the whalers and their crews on the bottom of the ocean, then, by all means, do it. But I’d rather see the whalers blown from the water than to see whaling continue.

  • Anton

    I am sick and tired of the ongoing Japanese whale-slaughtering in the Southern Ocean in the name of so-called “Scientific Research”. The harpooning and butchering of the whales is barbaric. Whales are Cetaceans and their genome is very close to that of humans. These mammals don’t just eat krill all day! Whales are very smart, They communicate with one another in sophisticated ways we still don’t understand. Whales look after their calves. They are sociable, and capable of feeling pain. But Japan kills them. 1,000 per year.

    The word “culling” is often used instead of “killing”. They both mean the same thing except that “culling” is the word usually used by those who promote or sanction whaling.

    Hunting the whales is not “sustainable”, nor will it ever be imo, because it is simply “untenable” to ‘sustain’ any further slaughtering of these magnificent creatures”. The moratorium hasn’t worked. Japan continues its hunt. Killing 1,000 whales a year for so-called research is not a joke. It’s a tragedy. I am for a total ban on whaling.

    I therefore tend to agree with Woody…

  • Gadfly

    The thing to do is organize a boycott of all Japanese products. Yes, I know on the surface that seems impractical/impossible. But all it would mean is that wherever there is a viable substitute you purchase a product manufactured in any country other than Japan. We are their biggest trade partner. A ten percent reduction would slam their economy.


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