Proposal to Lift Moratorium on Commercial Whaling Fails!

whaleThe International Whaling Commission (IWC), made up of 88 member nations, held its annual meeting in June in Morocco and  was expected to decide whether to suspend for at least 10 years the 24 year old moratorium on commercial whaling originally championed by Pres. Ronald Reagan.  

Instead, the proposal to lift the moratorium was tabled for another year.

Some whales were nearly extinct when the ban on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986.

The moratorium has exceptions or loopholes, however, under which whales can be captured and slaughtered for scientific research and aboriginal subsistence. Japan, for example, has continued whaling under permits granted for scientific research but makes no secret that the whales are captured and processed on the ships and the meat is then sold.  

In fact, prior to the start of the meeting in Morocco an undercover investigation revealed Japan had bribed officials in six countries to support its efforts to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling. The bribes included cash, free trips, and prostitutes.

Officials from the governments of St Kitts and Nevis, the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Grenada, Republic of Guinea and Ivory Coast were all willing to sell their votes on the International Whaling Commission in return for aid packages offered by undercover investigators. These officials confirmed Japan had offered bribes for their votes as well.

Norway and Iceland have also hunted whales commercially under objections or reservations filed to the moratorium.

Other countries including the U.S. have relied on the aboriginal-subsistence exception to hunt whales.

The IWC tracks to the extent possible the numbers of whales caught. For numbers of those taken under objections or reservations filed to the moratorium, visit this site. Numbers of whales captured under scientific permits can be found here.   Numbers of whales taken for aboriginal subsistence are found here.

Under a proposal championed by the Obama administration and which is attached below for downloading, Japan and other countries which hunt whales now could resume commercial whaling instead of pretending they are capturing whales for "scientific research" purposes, but they would have catch limits that proponents say would mean they would kill 3,200 fewer whales each year than they do now. Countries that do not hunt now could not start or resume whaling.

Highlights of the IWC proposal were: 

suspend immediately for the 10-year period unilaterally-determined whaling under special [scientific reserarch] permit, objections, and reservations;

bring all whaling authorised by member governments under the control of the IWC;

limit whaling to those members who currently take whales;

ensure that no new non-indigenous whaling takes place on whale species or populations not currently hunted;

establish caps for the next ten years that are significantly less than current catches and within sustainable levels, determined using the best available scientific advice; (According to IWC, "the policy evaluation has ensured that the catch limits, except for indigenous subsistence whaling, result in a significant reduction below existing catch levels….The catch limits outlined in this arrangement reflect scientific and policy evaluations of proposals made by the whaling countries for the ten-year period. The scientific evaluation has ensured that the catch limits are consistent with the principle of sustainability and the precautionary approach.")

introduce modern, effective IWC monitoring, control and surveillance measures for non-indigenous whaling operations;

create a South Atlantic Sanctuary;

recognise the non-lethal value and uses of whales, such as whalewatching, as a management option for coastal states and address related scientific, conservation and management issues of such uses;

provide a mechanism for enterprise and capacity building for developing countries;

focus on the recovery of depleted whale stocks and take actions on key conservation issues, including bycatch, climate change and other environmental threats;

set a decisive direction to the future work of the IWC including measures to reform the governance of the Commission; and

establish a timetable and mechanism for addressing the fundamental differences of view amongst member governments in order to provide for the effective functioning of the Commission over the longer term.

Under the proposal member nations would "agree not to authorize whaling outside IWC control and not to exceed the prescribed catch limits."  Aboriginal subsistence whaling would be renamed indigenous subsistence whaling. Previously approved indigenous subsistence whaling operations would continue. 

That’s the theory. 

As with any international law, there is no real enforcement mechanism, no reason to think Japan, Norway and Iceland will not simply continue their slaughter of whales in the same or even higher numbers. 

At least with a ban, it’s fairly easy to detect a violation. It’s not easy at all and may be impossible to know if they have killed more than their catch limit. Also, it was disconcerting that whaling would have been allowed off the coast of Antarctica where the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is located.  

Despite the prohibition on extending commercial whaling to other countries not currently involved, lifting the moratorium may well have encouraged others to decide to resume commercial whaling. 

A sticking point during the IWC meeting was insistence that the proposal to lift the moratorium include a provision phasing in zero catch limits, meaning phasing out commercial whaling altogether.

It was decided in a decision supported by the United States government to add humpback whales to the list of whales that can be hunted for subsistence.

The National Resources Defense Council estimates that even with the continuing slaughter by these countries, the number of whales killed annually for commercial use is down from a high before the ban of 38,000 – 60,000 to 1,240 – 1,700. A lot of lives saved.

For a look at the IWC’s assessment of the status of whale populations and proposals for long term monitoring…..

The plight of the whales has been dramatically highlighted by the efforts of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society which has tried to enforce the ban on commercial whaling on the high seas. The Sea Shepherd’s encounters with Japanese whaling ships are replayed in the television series, Whale Wars, on Animal Planet. 


Contact President Obama and urge him to support continuation of the moratorium on commercial whaling and focus on enforcement measures including by eliminating bogus "scientific research" permits that have enabled some countries to continue commercial whaling. Let’s not turn the clock back in our efforts to save whales from commercial exploitation and risk more cruelty and brutal slaughter of these wondrous animals.

Photo credit: ©Travis Fisher|