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May 29, 2012

Time to Refocus

A vision for the future of the IWC

Humane Society International

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was created in 1946—at a time when commercial whaling was a vibrant industry. Whaling nations banded together in an attempt to regulate whaling and protect their interests.

In the early years, the IWC proved ineffective. It issued unsustainable quotas and didn’t enforce even the weakest of management measures. By the late 1970s, eight out of the 10 species of whales covered by the IWC were commercially extinct.

In 1982, a ban on commercial whaling was adopted and all but a few countries ceased whaling. In the years following the implementation of this ban, the IWC became a more successful conservation body and hundreds of thousands of whales were saved from whalers' harpoons. During this time, the IWC assembled a team of scientists to make recommendations on how to protect whales from unsustainable, inhumane slaughter and environmental threats. Each year, more than 200 scientists still come together to discuss topics such as population estimates and trends, stock structure, whale watching, bycatch, ocean noise, and climate change. Some of the best whale science in the world is conducted, evaluated, and supported by the IWC Scientific Committee.

Natural evolution

Increasing conservation, ethical, economical, and welfare concerns demonstrate that whaling is more unacceptable to society than ever before. However, the IWC for the last few years has focused its efforts on finding a compromise with the remaining countries still engaged in whaling. Rather than pursuing all means to end the commercial slaughter of these species, the IWC has instead discussed approving a limited resumption of commercial whaling.

Whales are exceptionally vulnerable to overexploitation due to their long-lived, slow-breeding nature. Despite many great technological and scientific advances, accurate population monitoring is limited, while human-induced environmental threats are at an all-time high. For these reasons it is more important than ever that the IWC take further steps towards securing the future of the world’s whales. It is time for the IWC to refocus and dedicate itself once more to whale protection.

Vision for the future

HSI and other organizations have released an updated report detailing the evolution and the potential future of the IWC. This report states that in order to succeed in protecting the world’s whales, the IWC must take steps to ensure that its members:

  • Recognize that all whales require ongoing protection in the form of continued bans on commercial whaling and international trade in whale products.
  • Acknowledge that the lack of scientific knowledge about whales is an additional threat to their survival and that commitment to non-lethal research is required to promote greater understanding of whales and their conservation needs.
  • Recognize that the greatest potential for the utilization of whales lies in sustainable and responsible whale watching operations.
  • Acknowledge the need for the IWC to further develop into a whale conservation (as well as a management) organization.
  • Agree that the commercial sale of whale products from scientific whaling operations must be prohibited.

  • Moving forward

    The IWC needs to refocus its efforts away from never-ending debates over commercial whaling and towards long-term protection, sustainable management and recovery of whales. The Commission has the potential to provide much towards advancing our understanding of these creatures through continued biological, ecological, behavioral and management studies. Sustainable and humane uses of whales should be explored further, such as the continued development of responsible whale watching. Finally, Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling must be managed in a way that balances the needs of indigenous people with the responsibility to ensure that the hunts are sustainable, humane and accountable to the IWC.

    Learn more

    Check out the report Time to Refocus [PDF] for more detailed information on our recommendations for the future of the IWC.

    Time to Refocus - Spanish [PDF]

    Time to Refocus - French [PDF]