Fin whale with seagulls

10s of 1000s

Whales saved by the IWC’s global moratorium

Japanese whaling

3 countries

Japan, Iceland and Norway are still killing whales commercially. Iceland is considering stopping by 2024.

Fishing gear


Estimated number of whales, dolphins and porpoises who die yearly from fishing gear entanglement

The Issue

Daniel Aguilar/La Linea

The future for whales is threatened by countries’ disregarding and working to lift the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whale hunting, as well as vessel strikes, fishing gear entanglement, ocean pollution (including marine debris), habitat loss and human-created, loud noise. Whales are some of Earth’s largest animals, with the strongest and deepest voices. Some annually migrate from the tropics to the poles, some sing elaborate songs, and many live in close, complex societies.

Whaling facts:

  • Whale-killing methods cannot be guaranteed to kill instantly, and some whales are even struck with harpoons and then lost to a probable prolonged death.
  • Japan’s decision late in 2018 to overtly resume commercial whaling (abandoning its claim that its whaling was for research) and to leave the International Whaling Commission, which maintains its ban on such activities, makes it a “pirate” whaling nation, acting outside of international law.
  • Whales are unsuitable for attempts at sustainable use—they are long-lived, slow to reproduce, and difficult and expensive to monitor.
  • Important research is in progress exploring the role of whales in marine ecosystems and especially considering their positive contribution to marine productivity by, for example, transporting key ocean nutrients.
  • Studies point to overfishing as the likely culprit in fishery declines, not the whales as Japan and its allies like to claim, since commercial fishery species and whale food sources have little overlap.
  • Japan is also among a small number of countries and territories that also hunt small whales and dolphins. Japan’s dolphin hunt in the town of Taiji has become infamous because of its cruelty and links to the captivity industry. Similarly, the Faroe Islands’ annual drive hunts kill entire schools of small whales and dolphins, including hundreds of pilot whales, for their meat each summer.
  • Several populations of whales remain in danger of extinction, including the North Atlantic right whales; only 300-400 exist, with no young right whales born in 2018.
  • Whale watching, a $2B global industry, attracts 13M+ people annually; when properly managed, it offers a viable, ethical, alternative income source.

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