Will Commercial Whale Hunts Soon Be Authorized?

By Aline Reynolds | April 12, 2010 10:36 pm

400626710_c5fe97c48dAfter 24 years of championing a ban on commercial whaling, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) will soon weigh a proposal seeking to resume commercial whaling. The plan would let Japan, Norway and Iceland hunt the ocean giants openly despite a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling. In return, whaling nations would agree to reduce their catch “significantly” over 10 years [AFP]. These pro-whaling nations have kept up their hunts either by officially objecting to the moratorium or by insisting that they’re killing whales for scientific research.

The proposal is due to be submitted before the body’s annual meeting in June in Morocco, leading some conservationists to complain that the IWC should  “save whales, and not whaling.” The details of the proposal will made public on Earth day–April 22. Calling the withdrawal of the ban “the best chance to fight overfishing of these animals,” U.S Commissioner to the IWC Monica Medina said: “It’s a global problem, and needs global solutions” [Washington Post].

Making its case to pull back the ban, the IWC said that during the last few decades whale populations have substantially rebounded–with bowhead whale populations off Alaska increasing to between 8,200 and 13,500, eastern Pacific gray whale numbers rising to between 21,900 and 32,400 in 1999, and blue whale populations also rising. Conservationists, however, are seething, pointing out that 1,800 to 2,200 whales continue to be killed each year. “It’s great to be showing success, but should we be planting the flag and saying, ‘We’re there’?” asked Howard Rosenbaum, who directs the ocean giants program at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “We’re not out of the woods yet” [Washington Post].

They say that despite the rise in numbers, several species still struggle to survive. Just 130 or so western Pacific gray whales swim off the coast of Russia now — compared with at least thousands, if not tens of thousands, in the past — and they are still vulnerable to being caught in Japanese fishing nets and offshore energy projects. Even one of the populations that made major gains over the past few decades, the Southern right whale, is experiencing a sudden die-off. Since 2005, researchers have identified 308 dead whales in the waters around Argentina’s Peninsula Valdes, an important calving ground, and 88 percent of the dead were calves less than three months old [Washington Post].

Critics argue that the resumption of commercial whaling would not just endanger future whale populations but would also  legitimize behavior by countries like Japan, which many accuse of overfishing the waters of the Southern Ocean sanctuary and which recently won a victory in Doha, Qatar where a proposed ban on the trade of the bluefin tuna was shot down. Norway and Iceland have already disregarded the IWC’s moratorium and have hunted whales commercially.

Australia, meanwhile, has been extremely vocal in its opposition to the proposal, with a spokesman for the Environment Ministry, Greg Hunt, saying it would set too dangerous a precedent. “It is not about protecting whales, it is about a shoddy deal which gives the green light to whaling and is a white flag on plans to end whaling,” he said [Australia Network News]. The United States, while opposed to commercial whaling, said it was waiting to see the final proposal. The proposal needs a three-quarters majority vote to go ahead. A number of IWC nations have yet to declare their position.

Related Content:
80beats:Bluefin Tuna Is Still on the Menu: Trade Ban Fails at International Summit
80beats: Videos Show Collision Between Japanese Whaling Ship & Protesters
80beats: Is the Whaling Ban Really the Best Way to Save the Whales?
80beats: Controversial Deal Could Allow Japan To Hunt More Whales

Image: Flickr / ahisgett

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Living World
  • AbleBodySeaman

    First off the IWC was establish to regulate the hunting of whales not to prevent them from being hunted.

    Second Iceland and Norway didn’t disregard the moratorium. They objected to the moratorium as allowed by the IWC regulations Article V, which allows a member to object to a resolution meaning the resolution does not apply to them. Many if not most international groups have similar language. The CITES regulations have similar language allowing a country to object to a listing of a species, and that objection means that country is not prevented from trading the species they objected to.

  • Ed

    The selfish greed of a few nations, motivated by bad tradition and love of money, should not deprive the world of its biodiversity. Whaling is illegal, and the proper action towards whaling nations should be economic sanctions, not appeasement.

  • http://www.Team-tcp.com Doug from Dougland

    If countries or groups of people want to keep hunting whales because it’s their “tradition” I say let them, with the caveat that they can’t use any materials that didn’t exist in the last 100 years or technology invented during the last 1000 years (since that’s just about the cut off point for the great population die off of whales).

  • scott

    I am all for freedoms, but….Witout laws, restrictions, preserves, parks and off limits areas enforced by some “authority” that knows better, humans will eat, kill, chop down, dig up and scrape everything into a sterile Marscape.

  • Chris

    So Article V states that if a country doesn’t agree with the resolution they can continue to whale? So what’s the point of having a rule or law if it allows a person or nation to reject the law and do what they want? If all ‘laws’ had such clauses in it could you imagine the chaos? The law says I cannot drive my car without a valid license or insurance but with the new ‘I don’t agree’ clause I’m going to write a letter to the police and government telling them that I disagree with this law and will begin driving without a valid license or insurance.

    I’m glad international rules and laws are so well followed. No wonder humanity cannot move forward and find solutions for global warming, species extinctions, human population expansion, de-forestation, and plain old outright greed and selfishness. I agree with Doug, if Japan, Noway and Iceland wish to hunt whales because it’s tradition then use traditional tools, weapons, and vessels to do it.

    It is similiar to certain native rights treaties signed in Canada allowing native Canadians the right to catch as many fish wherever and whenever they want for their own personal use. Certain formerly abundant watersheds have been raped of spawning fish leading to population collapses. Native fishers use modern equipment to catch these fish whereas the should have to use traditional native fishing tools and nets to capture their fish.

  • http://DiscoverMagazine Bob Ray

    It appears there is only one rule. He who has the most gold makes the rules.Plain and simple GREED.

  • http://DiscoverMagazine Bob

    Norway, Iceland, and Japan live by their own rules, and it appears that rule is he who has the most gold makes the rules. Plain and simple GREED.

  • AbleBodySeaman

    Many international agreements, which aren’t actually laws have such clauses. I don’t know why but I suspect it is felt to be the only way to get some countries to join with the hope that the clause isn’t used too much.

    The CITES agreement, which has been in the news alot lately, has a similar clause. Guess who has used it the most times? No it is not Japan or Norway or Iceland or China. It is Switzerland with over 40 objections, Liechtenstein comes in second.

  • Lennie

    Agreed with Doug from Dougland.

  • AbleBodySeaman

    I do along with you Doug if you agree to live without any of the benifits from things you are against.

    Don’t believe in animal testing. Fine, you don’t get access to about 99% of the modern drugs.

    Don’t like nuclear power. OK, hope you don’t break a bone because no X-rays for you.

    And where did you pull this 1000 year number from? Limited coastal whaling is all that existed until less than about 300 years ago and extensive whaling didn’t really start until about 100-150 years ago.

  • http://www.Team-tcp.com Doug from Dougland


    I am not against science and technology, or anything like that. in fact, in an unpopular move I support humane animal testing, eat meat and think we should ban coal electric power plants and replace them all with nuclear plants because of the negligible carbon footprints. What I am saying is if a group of people want to do something illegal because it’s their “tradition” they better well use traditional methods and technology.

    I admit, I pulled the 1000 year number out of my a$$, but whales were dying off pretty quickly once we developed powerful sailing vessels, so I figure we should set the bar before that and keep the people that want to do it limited to coastal, low efficacy whaling. Just make it a lot harder on them.

  • AbleBodySeaman

    Who is doing something illegal? The Japanese whaling fully complies with the IWC, CITES and the ATS.

  • Brian Too

    @12. AbleBodySeaman,

    Japan is doing something illegal, that’s who.

    Nearly all treaty signatories and observers agree that the ‘scientific whaling’ the Japanese claim they perform is a sham. They take more whales than required for any reasonable scientific study, the whaling is not performed by scientists, the ships are not research ships, they produce little or no published data, and the whales are used for (surprise!) commercial consumption.

    The fact that IWC is toothless is another matter. Rest assured that Japan is in contravention of their treaty obligations, and if enforcement was successful, Japan would pull out of the IWC.

  • Ryan

    Doug, hi-tech hunting is more humane. A couple hundred years ago many whales escaped but died from their wounds. In principle I agree with taking low numbers of whales, but the best way to do that is to establish quotas and stick to them. Using hand-thrown harpoons won’t benefit anybody.

  • AbleBodySeaman

    @13. Brian Too,

    Sorry but you are wrong. If nearly all signatories believe it is a sham why haven’t they ended it by changing the regulations that allow research whaling?

    If you run the math with an estimated population of over 600,000 you require over 800 samples to get statistically valid results. It is plain statistics that you can find in any statistics book.

    Of course the scientists don’t perform the whaling. People that know how to perform the whale hunt take the whales and when the whale is brought on board then the scientists take their measurements and samples. Which has led to over 200 published scientific papers. And (surprise!) the IWC regulations specifically say about research whaling;

    “Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.”

    So they are required to process and sell the meat. I know reality is a bummer when it doesn’t say what you want it to.

    Rest assured Japan is following all their treaty obligations and there is no proof that if enforcement of a regulation that they are not breaking would lead to Japan pulling out of the IWC. But even if it would, that is a reason to do nothing? If what Japan is doing does violate the treaty then enforce the treaty. If Japan then pulls out what have you lost? Nothing. But if you don’t do anything because Japan might leave what have you lost? Your integrity. You chose which is better, lose your integrity and do nothing, or try and do something even if it turns out to not work.

  • http://www.Team-tcp.com Doug from Dougland


    I know how barbaric ancient hunting methods were, but they were not only barabaric to the animals. Hunting using “traditional” methods would be so difficult, I would venture that the nations would forego hunting in this manner at all the first time somebody died doing it. Like I’ve said before, I’m an advocate for banning whaling entirely.

  • hZ!

    NO WHALING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    humane my arse. freedom my f***ing arse!!!!!!!!!!!

    yes, greed. we are such a horrible species. it is so disappointing.

    you who advocate returning to the slaughter, i wish it were the whales right now who were consigning YOU to the harpoon. i fervently wish karma and reincarnation were real so you’d get your just deserts for your lack of compassion.

    [Moderator’s note: Edited the cuss word.]

  • hZ!

    well i exaggerate somewhat, whale-killing enthusiasts. what i really wish is that you’d get an education. that we’d all get rapidly both smarter and kinder. especially to whales and all those others we torture and kill for sport and profit.

  • hZ!

    mods, mangle my pros if nec but publish please

  • AbleBodySeaman

    People who use the word ‘profit’ like it is something bad or evil really are clueless. Profit is what has taken humans from nomadic hunter gatherers just 10,000 years ago to the technological society of today. Yes, some people’s pursuit of profit is bad but that is an indictment of those people not profit. A stick can be used to kill someone but that doesn’t make sticks bad.

    And education doesn’t make people kinder hZ!. In fact if you look at history it is probably the opposite.

  • Lan

    In order for us to have profit we need scarcity. Scarcity is what drives profit. I f we have scarcity then we will never have abundance. We will also never have abundance because of greed and profit and our ideas about what human life is all about. Profit does not breed respect but IT IS the bottom line.

    If humanity had a mission statement I wonder what it would be?

  • Ellen West

    Why do we have to kill Whales? Why can’t we just hunt and kill ugly fish? We don’t go around eating all the pretty birds, only the ugly ones like turkeys and chickens. We don’t go around eating all the beautiful mammals like Polar Bears or Lions, just ugly pigs and ugly cows. Death to all ugly animals and leave the pretty ones alone.

  • Brian Too

    15. AbleBodySeaman,

    Name 3 independent, impartial sources who think that the Japanese ‘scientific research’ is anything more than a cover story to continue commercial whaling. Nor does your argument address the matter that whatever limited science is performed, could often be done without killing the whales.

    I maintain that the science is an adjunct to killing the whales for profit. You wish to state that the profit is an adjunct to killing the whales for science. This is naive at best and complicit at worst.

    Also, please reconsider my comment that the IWC is toothless. Many international institutions are in this circumstance. The IWC is no different. Countries know that they can sign up, look good both for the folks back home and internationally, then quietly flout the agreement they just signed.

    If and when caught flouting treaty obligations there are 3 standard replies:

    1). That was a rogue action, it was not policy or sanctioned by the government, we were not informed, etc. Mistakes were made, personnel have been changed, a new regime is in place and everything is fine now!

    2). That happened under a former government and we cannot be held responsible. A new regime is in place and everything is fine now!

    3). The treaty itself was flawed, what we did was technically legal (*even though every other signatory disagrees) but not in the spirit of the treaty. The treaty has been fixed (*signed under the condition of no enforcement action or repercussions for past behaviour), a new regime is in place and everything is fine now!

    The Japanese position fits under Category #3.

  • AbleBodySeaman

    No the Japanese position doesn’t fit into Category #3. It fits a category you forgot.

    4). The treaty encourages members to carry out an action when and how they want as long as they pass their data on to the treaty organization.

    From the IWC Article VIII, “1. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention. Each Contracting Government shall report at once to the Commission all such authorizations which it has granted. Each Contracting Government may at any time revoke any such special permit which it has granted.

    2. Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.

    3. Each Contracting Government shall transmit to such body as may be designated by the Commission, in so far as practicable, and at intervals of not more than one year, scientific information available to that Government with respect to whales and whaling, including the results of research conducted pursuant to paragraph 1 of this Article and to Article IV.

    4. Recognizing that continuous collection and analysis of biological data in connection with the operations of factory ships and land stations are indispensable to sound and constructive management of the whale fisheries, the Contracting Governments will take all practicable measures to obtain such data.”

    The treaty wasn’t and isn’t flawed. Article VIII means exactly what the writers of the original treaty meant it to say.

    And as you said “…could often be done without killing the whale.” which means that some of the data can’t always be done without killing the whale. So to obtain that data the Japanese kill the whale.

    Since I don’t know who you will think is independent and impartial I will not waste my time trying to find 3 scientists that meet your approval. It is a pointless exercise anyway. The Japanese feel the research is valid; nothing else is required as long as they follow Article VIII.

    And if you think the whaling is for profit then where is this profit? Every year since the moratorium started the Japanese government has paid for the research because the sale of meat hasn’t covered the costs. That is known as a LOSE not a PROFIT.

  • Aero

    May compassion for all sentient life come to grow in the hearts of all humans before it is too late.

  • AbleBodySeaman

    Too late for what?


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