Text by Maymie Higgins
All photos courtesy of Stacey Osborne and taken in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, except for photo of Japanese whaling vessel.
In 1946, under volunteer agreement among member nations, The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The purpose of the IWC is to provide for the proper conservation of whales and the orderly development of the whaling industry.
In addition, the IWC serves to review and revise the measures which govern the conduct of whaling throughout the world for the purpose of providing complete protection of certain whale species. This is accomplished by designating certain areas as whale sanctuaries, by setting limits on the numbers and size of whales which may be taken, by prescribing open and closed seasons and areas for whaling and by prohibiting capture of suckling calves and female whales accompanied by calves.
The IWC requires catch reports and other data on whaling from the membership and contracting governments that are part of the IWC. You may view an interactive map of membership and contracting governments here.
The IWC also coordinates and funds conservation work for multiple whale species including efforts to reduce the frequency of ship strikes, coordination of disentanglement of whales in fishing nets and establishing Conservation Management Plans for key species and populations. The Commission also participates in peer reviewed research and publishes in the Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.
This week, based on a 12-4 majority vote among the panel judges, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice ordered a temporary halt to Japan’s annual slaughter of whales in the southern ocean after concluding that the hunts are not, as Japan claims, conducted for scientific research. The presiding judge, Peter Tomka, said Japan had failed to prove that its take of whales, mainly large quantities of minke whales in the Antarctic Ocean, was for scientific purposes.
Under the International Whaling Commission’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling, Japan was permitted to kill a certain number of whales every year for what it called scientific research. Japan signed the 1986 ban on whaling but has continued to take many more whales than the ban allows. Each winter, Japan has hunted and killed up to 850 minke whales, along with multiple fin and humpback whales, citing a 1946 treaty that permits killing whales for research.
The sale of meat from the hunts in restaurants and supermarkets spurned accusations from Australia and other anti-whaling nations that Japan was disguising commercial whaling “in the lab coat of science”.
Only a handful of other countries, including Iceland and Norway, continue whaling on a large scale. There is speculation that Japan will submit a revised research whaling program for approval by the IWC. Others speculate that in the face of a whaling fleet in need of refurbishing and dwindling consumer interest in whale meat, the Japanese government may take the opportunity to end their commercial whaling program entirely. Either way, there can be no question that Japan has been delivered a loud and clear directive from the international community to end commercial whaling, now and forever.
In the United States, citizens can be proud that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is an active member of the IWC. Here is a video demonstrating their participation in whale disentanglement.