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400 whales are killed every year and 7 of the 13 species of great whales are still endangered.

Submitted 5/25/2006 By joanne Views 130059 Comments 14 Updated 5/11/2007

Photographer : Shplendid

What is whaling?

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.

Scientific whaling

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

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:
  • 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!

Why is this?

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,

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society,

Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia, Whaling,

Discuss Now

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RSS Comments

karlykins 18-Mar-2009

I love whales



meex 07-Apr-2008

I hate how Japan justifies their killing of whales as "scientific research" how in the heck do you get results from eating it?
And why not just use the many dead whales they have in stockpile to "research". It infuriates me to think such magnificent creatures are treated so inhumanely!



funnelweb 30-Apr-2007

I abhor the inhumane ways in which whales are slaughtered by the dozens. Their populations are certainly dwindling, and we are doing very little about it. Where is the United Nations in all of this? It isn't just Japan, but the world should be more vocal about it or one day there won't be any whales left!



vegangirl 01-Apr-2007

The crew of the Sea Shepherd are heroes - I wish Greenpeace would follow their example. No wonder Paul Watson gave up on them..

As for the economic reasons for a pro-whaling stance - the same can be said for any issue. Many corporations depend on selling SUV's. Many corporations "depend" on using labour for 4c an hour to produce their products. Does this make it acceptable? Is this okay? Should economics be placed above lives? I don't think so.



hannahberry 19-Feb-2007

Last week there was a confrontation between a Japanese whaling vessel and the Sea Shepherd anti whaling ship. Kate O'Toole, from Hack speaks with Captain Paul Watson from the Sea Shepherd group about the reasons behind this action.