The International Whaling Commission (IWC) placed a moratorium on all commercial whaling in 1986. However Japan, Iceland and Norway continue to hunt whales both commercially and for supposed ‘scientific purposes’; these three countries have slaughtered more than 25,000 whales between them since the moratorium was put in place.
Presently whale hunting takes place under three different guises:
- Commercial whaling, which is conducted under objection or reservation to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling.
- Aboriginal subsistence whaling is conducted by indigenous populations for subsistence purposes to support their needs.
- Special permit whaling includes whales harvested in accordance with quotas allocated under a special permit, and includes whales harvested for scientific purposes.
Commercial WhalingCommercial whaling is the harvesting of whales for profit, and even though some whaling nations use science as a loophole, whales harvested for ‘scientific purposes’ are typically sold commercially. Thousands of whales continue to be harpooned every year even though a global ban on commercial whaling was implemented in 1986. Whaling fleets from Japan, Norway, and Iceland have the support of their governments even though this cruel, unnecessary practice is opposed by the rest of the world.
The IWC recognizes that whale products form an important part of the culture and diet of some indigenous people. Consequently, aboriginal subsistence whaling by indigenous people for subsistence purposes is not considered the same as commercial whaling and is not included in the moratorium on commercial whaling. According to the IWC, the objectives for managing aboriginal subsistence whaling are as follows:
- Ensure that risks of extinction are not seriously increased by whaling;
- Enable native people to hunt whales at levels appropriate to their cultural and nutritional requirements (also called ‘need’); and
- Move populations towards and then maintain them at healthy levels.
However, subsistence whaling can also be abused. For example, in the Faeroe Islands, indigenous people conduct an annual whale hunt when migrating whales pass by the islands on their way to feed rich feeding grounds after having giving birth in the warmer tropical waters. According to the conservation organisation, Sea Shepherd, up to 1000 endangered long-finned pilot whales and other cetaceans are slaughtered in traditional hunts each year. The hunt is extremely cruel, conducted in a similar fashion to the annual dolphin hunt that takes place in Taiji, Japan. Whales are herded into coves and forced to beach; those that do not oblige have gaff hooks slammed into their blow holes and are then dragged from the ocean with ropes. They are then knifed to death. The meat is shared amongst the islanders, but as far more whales are killed than can possibly be eaten, surplus meat is typically left to rot on the beaches where the whales were carved up. Senseless, needless, wasteful and cruel; yet all perfectly legal.
Japan uses a loophole provided in the 1946 whaling convention, which allows whales to be harvested for scientific purposes, to enable them to continue harvesting whales without breaching the terms of the moratorium. ‘Scientific whaling’ is also practised by Iceland and Norway, who also harvest whales commercially under objection to the moratorium.
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), a requirement of a scientific whaling permit is that the meat of harvested whales be used (sold or given away), which in effect makes a scientific permit a license to sell the meat obtained from slaughtered whales. Because whale products obtained from scientifically harvested whales are sold, and very little useful scientific data can be obtained from harvested whales, scientific whaling is in effect commercial whaling in disguise. While whaling countries are required to report their catch to the IWC, scientific whaling catch limits are set by the whaling countries themselves, rather than the IWC, which limits how well it can be controlled or regulated.
Furthermore, the only countries that see the need to slaughter whales en-masse in the interest of ‘science’ are those that actively market whale meat. In this day and age, with all the modern tools and technology available to monitor whales and to collect scientific data using non-invasive and/or non-lethal methods such as obtaining DNA from skin samples, there is no need to kill an animal, let alone an entire pod of whales, to further the ends of science. Estimating population numbers and trends is achieved by using legitimate scientific methodology such as conducting ship- or shore based whale sighting surveys, using acoustic survey techniques or through photo-identification of individual whales, not by slaughtering them on the high seas.