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December 31, 2009

Whales in Trouble

Humane Society International

Whales face increasing threats:

  • Low reproductive rates: Whales have naturally low reproductive rates, making many species extremely vulnerable to increasing pressure from whaling.
  • Chemical pollution: Modern-day contaminants flowing into all our oceans are literally polluting whales' tissues. Some whale die-offs and strandings are suspected to be caused by immune system failures that result from exposure to certain pollutants.
  • Increasing shipping and fishing traffic: Threats include being struck by ships and accidental entanglements in fishing gear.
  • Noise pollution: Marine mammals are highly sound-oriented creatures. Whales and dolphins can suffer not only hearing damage when exposed to loud noises, but also other physical and psychological harm. Activities such as oil and gas exploration, the raising and dismantling of oil rigs, active sonar and explosives testing by the military, the use of noisemakers to deter marine mammals from fishing nets and fish pens, marine experiments that involve the use of loud sounds, and the increasing level of engine noise from boat and ship traffic may have far-reaching and long-term debilitating effects on whales.

With these kinds of pressures threatening the long-term viability of our oceans and their inhabitants, it is irresponsible to add even greater pressure on whales by hunting them to supply the luxury food market.

Whale sanctuaries

While some nations look for a return to commercial whaling, pro-whale forces have redoubled their efforts to establish whale sanctuaries in as many oceans as possible. To date the IWC has created sanctuaries in the Indian Ocean and in the Southern Ocean (Antarctica). Efforts by member nations to create additional sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic have been defeated due to pressure from Japan and its allies. They are also trying to abolish established sanctuaries, and Japan continues to undermine international law by killing whales in the Southern Ocean.

The new century

During its more than six decades of existence, the IWC has evolved from an international institution whose primary focus was the apportionment of whaling quotas to one that also recognizes its role in protecting and ensuring the existence of all whales for present and future generations.

However, the IWC may once again become a whalers' club due to pressure from Japan, Iceland and Norway. It is in the process of debating a proposal that purports to regulate commercial whaling, with the assumption that whalers would harvest only what was sustainable—a feat never before accomplished and unlikely to happen.

In the 21st century, the race within the IWC is between whaling forces and people who demand that their governments go to the IWC with the resolve to end the barbaric practice. It is time for the IWC to become a whale protection organization once and for all.

What we can do

The Pelly Amendment to the Fishermen's Protective Act provides the United States government with a legal mechanism to apply economic sanctions against countries like Japan that are undermining international fisheries and environmental treaties. HSI/HSUS has called on the U.S. to invoke the Pelly Amendment to enact sanctions against whaling nations. Though the United States claims to have a firm policy against all commercial and scientific whaling, the government has yet to take a strong stand against it.

Because of whale watching opportunities, whales are more valuable alive than dead. Whale watching is a large and growing industry in many countries, which can provide an educational and non-consumptive way for people to profit from living whales. An effective way to protect whales and coastal communities offering whale watching is to create sanctuaries—areas that provide safe refuge for whales during critical feeding, breeding and calving times. Sanctuaries not only keep whales safe from hunting but also provide a framework for protecting their habitat and ecosystems.

The ultimate solution to the current controversy over whaling is to ban the practice entirely. A complete and permanent ban would quell the constant battles over interpretation of International Whaling Commission rules and exceptions and eliminate the looming threat of a resumption of commercial whaling using an uncertain quota system and inadequate monitoring and enforcement. Substitutes for whale products are widely available, so there is no place for commercial whaling in today's economy. Living whales are far more valuable.