Whaling To Resume?

Whaling To Resume?

Whaling may begin again under new plan approved by the International Whaling Commission

By: Staff  Date: 01/14/2012 Category: | Wildlife Journal |

Reversing its 10-year-old moratorium on commercial whaling, the International Whaling Commission has adopted an Irish plan that will allow controlled resumption of whaling in coastal waters, prohibit whale hunts on the high seas, and close the research loophole used by the Japanese to hunt minke whales.

The preliminary plan approved in Monaco at the end of October calls for a consensus of IWC member nations to allow resumption of whale hunting for species that are not endangered as long as the products are used for local consumption. If approved, the plan will loosen the grip of anti-whaling nations and organizations on the IWC and return the convention to its original purpose - to provide for the conservation of whale stocks through regulated commercial whaling.

"To reach consensus in the IWC, there will have to be some whaling. Some whaling is already going on, but it's got to be brought under IWC control," said new IWC chairman Michael Canny of Ireland.

Although the US, Britain, and Australia reject any move to resume commercial whaling and whaling nations Japan and Norway disagree with other parts of the proposal, this year's meeting was in stark contrast to the 1996 convention in Aberdeen, Scotland, 16 months earlier. That meeting was described as "divisive" when it continued the moratorium on hunting of all whale species and forced the US and Russia to abandon requests for whale quotas for native people. Supported by animal rights groups, anti-whaling nations took a hard stand in spite of growing evidence that the world's whale populations are increasing in numbers. With Norway and Japan presenting evidence that minke whale numbers were high enough to sustain a controlled harvest, the US nevertheless held firm for the moratorium and the British delegation shifted its emphasis from saving whales from extinction to eliminating all hunting of the marine mammals.

The intervening months have seen a change in international support for controlled whaling, and it is this trend that sparked agreement in Monaco. Although the IWC remains opposed to ending the ban, there is growing recognition that failure to act may destroy the commission and its chances to conserve whale species.

At the June 1997 meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, a majority of delegates approved a motion to downlist the minke whale from Appendix I - which allows no trade - to Appendix II - which allows controlled trade. The measure failed only because the majority did not reach the required two thirds of the delegates.

To support its request for downlisting, Norway presented statistics about the minke whale populations and a plan for identifying the meat by DNA analysis and reported that each of its whaling boats carries an observer to make sure the quota is obeyed and humane killing methods are used.

Norway has hunted minke whales in defiance of the IWC ban since 1992. Norway objected to the Irish plan to limit consumption of whales to local areas, claiming that such trade issues are not under IWC jurisdiction. Japan has hunted the same species for research, which is allowed under the ban. Japan opposed the ban on whaling on the high seas, claiming that it violates the IWC mandate to regulate sustainable whaling.

Japan and Norway together killed 1043 minke whales in 1996.

Norwegian whalers hunt in the North Atlantic. The estimated population of minke whales in the northeastern North Atlantic was 112,000 in 19961; the 1991 estimate of the population in the central North Atlantic was 28,0001.

The Japanese hunt minkes in the North Pacific, where the population in 1993 was 25,0002 animals, and in the Antarctic, where the 1991 population was more than 700,0002 animals.



Commercial whaling goes back to the 12th Century, but had little effect on species' populations until the early 18th Century when two developments changed the course of whaling history: the discovery of sperm whales in the Atlantic off New England and the invention of a shipboard tryworks, a brick oven for rendering whale blubber into oil. With an on-board oven, whaling ships could stay out for years. No more returning to port when the hold was full of blubber; instead ships could remain at sea until the casks were full of precious oil.

The demand for whale products was high - oil for lamps, soaps, margarine, paints, and lubricants; skin for leather; cartilage for glue; whalebone for corset stays; and meat. Sperm whale oil was especially prized for candles, fine lubricants, cosmetics, and shoe polish.

Whaling was big business in New England, and by the end of the 18th Century, Yankee whalers had seriously depleted the sperm whale stocks3. Whalers were indiscriminate; young adult whales and nursing calves were often killed. By 1840, the right whale had been hunted almost to extinction in the Pacific off South America, and whalers turned to right and bowhead whales in the Bering Sea and gray whales off California.

The discovery of petroleum in 1859 led to the temporary demise of the huge US whaling fleet. However, hunting continued until World War II. Even though whale oil was no longer in demand, whalers developed new tools and modern techniques. The explosive harpoon, engine-powered ships, and factory ship fleets, and spotting whales by airplanes and helicopters made the hunts more efficient. The industry experienced a brief resurgence in the 20th Century with the development of hydrogenation, a process that allowed the use of whale oil in a variety of products such as shortening and soaps. Huge fleets went after blue whales, sei whales, and fin whales and Pacific Ocean populations of humpback and sperm whales. When these whales were scarce, they hunted the much-smaller minke whales.

After the War, it became obvious that whale numbers were seriously depleted. Most nations ended whale hunting until only the Soviet Union and Japan maintained factory whaling fleets. Whaling nations convened the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to devise a management plan to save whaling and to conserve the remaining populations. ICRW established the International Whaling Commission in 1948 as its regulatory body. By that time, several species of whales were scarce and hunting of gray whales, right whales, North Atlantic stocks of blue whales, and suckling females and females accompanied by pups had been banned.

The original signatories to the convention were Australia, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the US, the Soviet Union, France, and Panama. Sweden, Canada, Mexico, and New Zealand joined in 1949, followed by Brazil and Denmark in 1950 and Japan in 1951. Enrollments and resignations kept the membership relatively stable until 1979, when five non-whaling nations joined, followed by 20 more nations by the end of 1983. These new members gave the whaling opponents a majority on the commission, and a ban on commercial whaling was implemented in 1987. The Norwegians objected to the ban and were excused from its regulation according to IWC rules, and Japan took advantage of the loophole for scientific whaling.

Several latecomer nations have subsequently left the IWC along with original member Iceland and 1949 joiner Canada. Today the IWC has 39 member nations, a majority committed to a ban on commercial whaling until this year's meeting.

ICRW was founded in recognition of the over-exploitation of whale stocks and the need for regulations to safeguard whale species for future generations. The ICRW convention called on signatory nations to work for sustainable hunting of whales through control of hunting. ICRW established the International Whaling Commission to

  • encourage, recommend, or if necessary, organize studies and investigations related to whales and whaling;
  • collect and analyze statistical information concerning the current condition and trend of the whale stocks and the effects of whaling activities thereon;
  • study, appraise, and disseminate information concerning methods of maintaining and increasing the populations of whale stocks.
  • In order to carry out its responsibility to assure a sustainable catch of whales, the IWC was authorized to regulate hunting seasons, designate sanctuary areas, set size limits and quotas, and specify types of gear to be used. The decisions were to be based on scientific research. However, the scientific study of whale populations and development of plans for sustainable management have lost out to the emotional appeal of animal rights and environmental groups that have raised million of dollars from a public enamored of whales. "Save the Whales" may be the most successful environmental campaign ever.


The slide from science and reason to emotion has taken its toll. In 1992, Dr. Philip Hammond, the head of the IWC scientific committee, resigned his post, citing the IWC's failure to implemented his committee's Revised Management Procedure for commercial whaling. The IWC had accepted the committee's draft recommendations but has never adopted the final report.

"I have come to the conclusion that I can no longer justify to myself being the organizer of and spokesman for a committee whose work is held in such disregard by the body to which it is responsible," Hammond said in his resignation letter.

It remains to be seen if the IWC can float a plan that will accommodate the intransigent positions of the US, Britain, and Australia and the objections of whaling nations such as Japan and Norway or if the commission will split with whalers sailing in one direction and anti-whalers in another.


DNA testing can identify whale meat

If the International Whaling Commission develops a plan to resume commercial whaling, it will need a system of checks and balances to control the numbers and species of whales that can be hunted. Norway has already implemented such a plan: all of its whaling ships have observers to make sure that the regulations are followed and it is conducting pilot projects to perfect a DNA testing protocol to identify the meat, blubber, and other whale products.

Norway presented its genetic testing plan to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Zimbabwe last June. The plan includes the taking of DNA samples from each animal caught and the analysis and registration of information from the sample.

DNA profiles from the minke whales caught from 1997 onward will be included. The registry will eventually be expanded to include other stocks of minkes and other whale species.

The DNA profile of each whale will include a set of genetic markers used to identify each whale; data from maternal DNA; and data from the Y-chromosome (paternal DNA). This profile will make it possible to identify whale meat or blubber purchased in the market as part of a legally-caught whale.Two pilot projects were underway in June, one to identify eight genetic markers and the other to identify Y-chromosome markers.

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All Authors Of This Article: | Norma Bennett Woolf |
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