When many people think about commercial whaling activities, they think back to long forgotten times where people in massive wooden ships would venture out under canvas sails for weeks at a time. Even others may think of Herman Melville’s ill-fated Captain Ahab.
While much of whaling took place long ago, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still done today. Some people may recall environmental activists preaching “save the whales” in the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. As the world changed, so did how we approached the concept of whaling.
A commercial ban or more specifically a “pause” was placed on whaling 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC is not an agency that can dictate government policy of member nations – all it can do is establish standards that member nations elect to adopt. In most cases those standards have been adopted; but few people know that several member nations have either flat out objected those standards or have accepted them with reservation. This is a fancy way of saying that they continue the practice of whaling under self-imposed quota limits. To top things off, nations can get around the ban by issuing special permits that were intended for scientific research.
Whaling Impact Since 1986
We have established that whaling continued even after the IWC implemented their new criteria in 1986. Specifically, three circumstances remained where whales were hunted:
- Nations objecting to the IWC ruling.
- Aboriginal people hunting as part of their cultural heritage.
- Special permits issued for scientific whaling.
As a result, some species of whale remain at risk due to how they have been targeted. Here is a breakdown of whaling activities from 1986 – 2015:
Looking at these figures, Minke whales represent over 41,000 of the 50,000 whales exploited. History tells us that Minke whales were traditionally ignored as a whaling species. Once the larger species became more endangered, whalers moved their watchful gaze to these poor creatures in order to continue their craft. The animals gathered under the “Special Permit” criteria undergo testing and analysis.
Once the analysis is complete, the animals are handed over to the food industry for processing.
Several nations have engaged in whaling over the past 30-years. Here are the nations at the top of the list for all three categories combined.
As you can quickly see Japan leads the activity at 40% followed by Norway at 24% and what was historically the USSR at 19%.
Whale meat continues to play a significant role in Japan; however changing tastes in Norway have seen the demand drop over the past 30 – 40 years.
You can also see that the United States occupies the number six slot for total number of animals hunted. All but 2 of those are accounted for by aboriginal people of Alaska. The two outside of Alaska were captured off Washington state by native tribes.
Whaling Impact & the Future
The long-term impact from this activity has been debated for over 100 years between commercial companies and conservationists. What is known, is that this activity has caused the extinction of Atlantic Gray Whales and jeopardized the biodiversity by threatening other species to become endangered.
The IWC provides an outstanding breakdown of how many species have recovered since the moratorium was put in place 30-years ago. It’s a useful resource if you want to look closer at the recovery data.
Many nations have identified that a huge source of demand for whale meat actually comes from tourists. National Geographic reported that Icelanders for example, don’t even eat whale meat – what isn’t consumed by tourists is exported to Japan. The problem is that they primarily hunt the endangered fin whale.
Want to know how you can help? Support anti whaling campaigns and legislation with your state and federal governments. And if you find yourself looking at a menu that has a whale product on it, leave. These creatures deserve better.