December 31, 2009
The IWC Whaling Moratorium
Speaking about the blue whale, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart L. Udall said of the 1970s, "This decade may go down in history as marking the end of life for the largest animal ever to inhabit this earth. If so, it will be another morbid monument to man's shortsighted exploitation of the world's wildlife bounty."
In 1972, the United Nations held its first conference on the environment in Stockholm, Sweden. This meeting marked the opening salvo of whale protection advocates against the IWC. While individuals lobbied delegates inside and environmental and animal protection groups held rallies outside, UN delegates unanimously adopted a resolution recommending a ten-year moratorium on commercial whaling. Nevertheless, a few weeks later at the IWC meeting in London, whalers soundly defeated the call for a moratorium.
From 1972 to 1982, mighty battles were waged; many whale protection groups, including The Humane Society of the United States, participated in the decade-long fight. Each year the IWC defeated the moratorium but due to our pressure, set the quotas lower and lower.
The big showdown between non-whaling and whaling countries occurred in 1982. An indefinite moratorium finally had the three-quarters majority needed to pass. The compromises made to achieve the moratorium, however, included delaying implementation until 1986 and promising to review the effects of the moratorium on whale stocks beginning in 1990. The moratorium remains in place now only because the pro-whaling nations of Japan, Norway and Iceland have not yet managed to garner the three-quarters majority of votes necessary to overturn it.
Exceptions to the moratorium
Determined to continue whaling, several countries found loopholes in the moratorium. Under the rules of the IWC, certain countries or groups of people can still kill whales under certain conditions. Norway, Japan, Peru and the Soviet Union exercised their right under this treaty to file official objections to the moratorium, effectively stating that they would not abide by it.
Peru later withdrew its objection.
Japan, fearing U.S. retaliation with fish embargoes, withdrew its objection only after non-governmental organizations filed a lawsuit in 1988. However, it began its so-called scientific whaling program in 1987, using a loophole that allows lethal research programs. The research provision was meant to allow the killing of a few whales a year to answer scientific questions that could only be answered by examining dead animals. However, it has been misused and abused by Japan, which increases its “sample sizes” each year and sells the meat and blubber to its domestic market.
Total compliance with the moratorium didn’t take place until 1989. Japan now wants to resume commercial whaling, but because it has withdrawn its objection to the moratorium, it must either leave the IWC or continue to expand its scientific whaling.
Norway, following through on its original objection, resumed commercial whaling in 1993.
Whether Russia will return to commercial whaling is worrisome. In need of an influx of hard currency, Russia may see commercial whaling as a way to accomplish this. Iceland and South Korea also exploited scientific research loophole. They were able to exploit the market for whale meat in Japan. Nearly every year, the IWC adopts resolutions attacking these scientific whaling programs as inadequate and useless.
South Korea has since ceased scientific whaling but has recently expressed its interest in commercial whaling.
Japan not only continued its "research" program but expanded it. In 2000 the country added sperm whales and Bryde's whales to the hundreds of minke whales it kills each year. It added sei whales in 2001, fin whales in 2005, and in December 2007 announced its plans to begin hunting humpback whales off Antarctica.
Iceland stopped its scientific whaling and eventually withdrew from the IWC, saying the organization had become too protectionist. In 2002 Iceland illegally rejoined the IWC with a reservation to the moratorium and again began scientific whaling the following year. It then started a commercial hunt for minke and fin whales in 2006.
Whales killed since the moratorium on commercial whaling
Since the moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, nearly 30,000 whales have been killed, over 23,000 of these by Japan, Norway, or Iceland. The numbers of whales killed in recent years are among the highest since the moratorium went into effect (although they are still at a fraction of historic numbers), and they continue to increase [PDF].