What is whaling?
Photographer : Shplendid
Whaling refers to the hunting and killing of whales by humans for their resources. The slaughter of these giant mammals for their meat, bone, oil and blubber is no new phenomenon—it is an age-old practice that has been carried out for centuries—however the patterns, methods and purposes behind whaling have changed as time has passed.
Different types of whaling
Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling
Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) involves the small scale hunting of whales by indigenous communities, for their traditional, cultural and survival needs. ASW is still carried out in some countries including Russia, USA and Greenland.
As the name suggests, scientific whaling refers to whaling that is conducted in the name of scientific research. Through the analysis of the tissue of hunted whales, scientists can gain a better insight into a whale’s age, its breeding habits and the patterns of distribution of whale communities.
Commercial whaling is by far the most controversial whaling practice. It refers to whaling undertaken for purposes that are not essential to meet human needs. Whale products such as meat and blubber are exploited for trade and for a profit. Japan, Norway and Iceland are amongst the biggest commercial whalers. Japan in particular, strongly supports this practice, as whale meat is considered a national delicacy and forms part of the traditional diet.
The impact of whaling
Unregulated commercial whaling has had a very serious impact on the world’s whale populations. Whales reproduce at a very slow rate, so the small numbers of whales being born each year were not able to keep up with the fast rate at which they were being killed. This resulted in a severe overkill of the whale population, leading to the extinction of many whale species and the endangerment of many others, including the blue, fin, right, sperm, grey, humpback and sei whales.
What has been done about it?
The decline in the whale population was not ignored by the international community and serious action was taken in an effort to save the remaining whale species. This action came in the form of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, 1946
. This international agreement, involving 42 nations, called for the international regulation
of whaling to ensure that whales did not continue to be over-hunted. The International Whaling Commission
(IWC) was established to carry out this function. In 1986 the IWC introduced a complete ban on commercial whaling for an indefinite period of time. This ban was set up to continue until the IWC found a way that whaling could be undertaken without causing whale populations to decrease to dangerously low levels. No way has been found yet, so the complete ban on commercial whaling continues.
Is it working?
Despite this international ban on whaling, whales are still being killed on a daily basis. Statistics show:
Why is this?
- 1,400 whales are killed every year
- 25,000 whales have been killed for commercial purposes since 1986
- 7 of the 13 species of great whales are still endangered!
The simple explanation behind the continued decline in the whale population, is that countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland – are still whaling, despite the ban!
This International agreement still allows for unlimited whaling in the name of scientific research and both Japan and Iceland have used this loophole in the legislation to continue large scale “scientific” whaling operations. Since 1985 Japan has killed over 8000 whales under its scientific whaling programs in the Antarctic. Under the next phase of this program Japan plans to increase the number of whales hunted to 930 in one year! This scientific program has been widely criticised by the international community as a cover up for commercial whaling, and is a very controversial topic at the moment.
By lodging a formal objection to the international ban on commercial whaling, Norway has managed to avoid being bound by it. This means that they can and do carry out a lot of commercial whaling in the North East Atlantic Ocean. Norway restarted commercial whaling in 1993 and since then the number of whales killed has kept on rising. In 2005 Norway killed 639 Minke whales.
In addition to the whale hunting undertaken by these three countries, thousands of whales are killed illegally every year by pirate whalers.
Should whaling continue?
Despite worldwide concern for the depleting whale populations, there is still debate on the issue of whether whaling should continue.
On one side...
...are those that are opposed to whaling.
Many countries and interest groups oppose whaling on the basis that the method of killing is unethical and inhumane. They believe that death by harpoon has the potential to impose a traumatic, slow and painful death for these highly evolved mammals, without producing great benefits for the public.
Others argue that whaling is uneconomic. They think that by hunting these mammals, whalers are robbing the tourist industry of lots of money. Whale watching is fast becoming a very lucrative business and people who have an interest in it argue that ‘a whale can only be killed once, but can be watched several times.’
A final argument against whaling is based on conservation concerns. There is worldwide agreement that it is morally wrong to exterminate an animal species. In light of this, anti-whaling advocates argue that banning whaling is essential in order to prevent their extinction. This stems from the fear that whale populations will be unable to withstand hunting because they are already subject to a number of other threats such as climate changes and pollution.
On the other side…
…are those who are pro-commercial whaling
These countries and interest groups believe that such conservation concerns are unfounded. They argue that the species of whale that are targeted for commercial whaling are not endangered and therefore no moral obligation toward them exists.
The economic argument is also challenged. Pro-whalers state that the economic benefits of whaling, including employment, and the trade of whale products far outweighs benefits of whale watching. They also think that commercial whaling, in being subject to regulation, will not deplete whale numbers, and will therefore enable both industries to flourish.
A final argument rests on the fishing industry. Pro-whalers consider that whaling is essential for the successful operation of commercial fisheries. Because the annual diet of a whale consists of 10 kg of fish per kilogram of body mass, whaling is said to be essential in order for adequate amounts of fish to be available for humans.
Where does Australia stand?
Since 1979 Australia has strongly opposed whaling and has become a strong advocate for the permanent international ban of commercial whaling. In particular, Australia plays a central role in opposing attempts by Japan to lift the international commercial whaling ban.
How do I know this?
Department of the Environment and Heritage, Whale and dolphin conservation
Greenpeace Australia, Saving the whales
Greenpeace International, Save the whales
International Whaling Commission, http://www.iwcoffice.org/index.htm
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, http://www.wdcs.org
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Whaling