Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales. Industrial whaling emerged with organised fleets in the 17th century; competitive national whaling industries in the 18th and 19th centuries; and the introduction of factory ships along with the concept of whale harvesting in the first half of the 20th century.
As technology increased and demand for the resources remained, catches far exceeded the sustainable limit for whale stocks. In the late 1930s more than 50,000 whales were killed annually and by the middle of the century whale stocks were not being replenished. In 1986 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling so that stocks might recover.
While the moratorium has been successful in averting the extinction of whale species due to overhunting, contemporary whaling is subject to intense debate. Pro-whaling countries, notably Japan, wish to lift the ban on stocks that they claim have recovered sufficiently to sustain limited hunting. Anti-whaling countries and environmental groups say whale species remain vulnerable and that whaling is immoral, unsustainable, and should remain banned permanently.
History of whaling
Whaling began in prehistoric times and was initially confined to (near) coastal waters. Early whaling affected the development of widely disparate cultures—such as Norway and Japan. Although prehistoric hunting and gathering is generally considered to have had little ecological impact, early whaling in the Arctic may have altered freshwater ecology. The development of modern whaling techniques was spurred in the 19th century by the increase in demand for whale oil, sometimes known as "train oil" and in the 20th century by a demand for margarine and later meat.
Whale oil is little used today and modern commercial whaling is done for food. The primary species hunted are the common minke whale and Antarctic minke whale, two of the smallest species of baleen whales. Recent scientific surveys estimate a population of 103,000 in the northeast Atlantic. With respect to the populations of Antarctic minke whales, as of January 2010, the IWC states that it is "unable to provide reliable estimates at the present time" and that a "major review is underway by the Scientific Committee."
International cooperation on whaling regulation began in 1931 and culminated in the signing of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in 1946. Its aim is to:
- provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the commercial whaling and the orderly development of the whaling industry.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up under the ICRW to decide hunting quotas and other relevant matters based on the findings of its Scientific Committee. Non-member countries are not bound by its regulations and conduct their own management programs.
The IWC voted on July 23, 1982, to establish a moratorium on commercial whaling beginning in the 1985–86 season. Since 1992, the IWC's Scientific Committee has requested that it be allowed to give quota proposals for some whale stocks, but this has so far been refused by the Plenary Committee.
Canadian whaling is carried out in small numbers by various Inuit groups around the country and is managed by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Harvested meat is sold through shops and supermarkets in northern communities where whale meat is a component of the traditional diet, but typically not in southern, more urban cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says:
- Canada has pursued a policy of marine mammal management which appears to be more to do with political expediency rather than conservation.
While Canada left the IWC in 1982, the only species currently harvested by the Canadian Inuit that is covered by the IWC is the bowhead whale. As of 2004, the limit on bowhead whale hunting allows for the hunt of one whale every two years from the Hudson Bay-Foxe Basin population, and one whale every 13 years from the Baffin Bay-Davis Strait population. This is roughly one fiftieth of the bowhead whale harvest limits in Alaska (see below).
Around 950 long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melaena, actually a species of dolphin) are slain each year, mainly during the summer. Occasionally, other species are hunted as well, such as the northern bottlenose whale and Atlantic white-sided dolphin. The hunt is known as the Grindadráp.
Faroese whaling is regulated by Faroese authorities but not by the IWC, which does not regulate the catching of small cetaceans.
Most Faroese consider the hunt an important part of their culture and history and arguments about the topic raise strong emotions. Animal-rights groups criticize the hunt as being cruel and unnecessary and economically insignificant. Hunters claim that most journalists lack knowledge of the catch methods used to capture and kill the whales.
Since the Faroese Islands economy improved through tourism and fishing, to match other European states the Grindadrap, has become a family festival day. Little whale meat is now consumed by the islanders.
Greenlandic Inuit whalers catch around 175 whales per year, making them the third largest hunt in the world after Japan and Norway, though their take is small compared to those nations, who annually averaged around 730 and 590 whales respectively in 1998–2007. The IWC treats the west and east coasts of Greenland as two separate population areas and sets separate quotas for each coast. The far more densely populated west coast accounts for over 90 percent of the catch. In a typical year around 150 minke and 10 fin whales are taken from west coast waters and around 10 minkes are from east coast waters. In April 2009 Greenland landed its first bowhead whale in nearly forty years after being given a quota by the IWC in 2008 for two whales a year until 2012.
The Inuit already caught whales around Greenland since the years 1200–1300. They mastered the art of whaling around the year 1000 in the Bering Strait. The technique consists of spearing a whale with a spear connected to a blown up seal bladder. The bladder would float and exhaust the whale when diving, and when it surfaces; the Inuit hunters would spear it again, further exhausting the animal until they were able to kill it.
Vikings on Greenland also ate whale meat, but archaeologists believe they never hunted them on sea.
Iceland did not object to the 1986 IWC moratorium. Between 1986 and 1989 around 60 animals per year were taken under a scientific permit. However, under strong pressure from anti-whaling countries, who viewed scientific whaling as a circumvention of the moratorium, Iceland ceased whaling in 1989. Following the IWC's 1991 refusal to accept its Scientific Committee's recommendation to allow sustainable commercial whaling, Iceland left the IWC in 1992.
Iceland rejoined the IWC in 2002 with a reservation to the moratorium. Iceland presented a feasibility study to the 2003 IWC meeting for catches in 2003 and 2004. The primary aim of the study was to deepen the understanding of fish–whale interactions. Amid disagreement within the IWC Scientific Committee about the value of the research and its relevance to IWC objectives, no decision on the proposal was reached. However, under the terms of the convention the Icelandic government issued permits for a scientific catch. In 2003 Iceland resumed scientific whaling which continued in 2004 and 2005.
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Its annual quota is 30 minke whales (out of an estimated 174,000 animals in the central and north-eastern North Atlantic) and nine fin whales (out of an estimated 30,000 animals in the central and north-eastern North Atlantic).
Lamalera, on the south coast of the island of Lembata, and Lamakera on neighbouring Solor are the two remaining Indonesian whaling communities. The hunters obey religious taboos that ensure that they use every part of the animal. About half of the catch is kept in the village; the rest is bartered in local markets. In 1973, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sent a whaling ship and a Norwegian whaler to modernize their hunt. This effort lasted three years, and was not successful. According to the FAO report, the Lamalerans "have evolved a method of whaling which suits their natural resources, cultural tenets and style."
When the commercial whaling moratorium was introduced by the IWC in 1982, Japan lodged an official objection. However, in response to US threats to cut Japan's fishing quota in US territorial waters under the terms of the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment, Japan withdrew its objection in 1987. However, according to the BBC, America went back on this promise, effectively destroying the deal. Since Japan could not resume commercial whaling, it began whaling on a scientific-research basis. Australia, Greenpeace, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and other groups dispute the Japanese claim of research "as a disguise for commercial whaling, which is banned."
The stated purpose of the research program is to establish the size and dynamics of whale populations. The Japanese government wishes to resume whaling in a sustainable manner under the oversight of the IWC, both for whale products (meat etc.) and to help preserve fishing resources by culling whales. Anti-whaling organizations claim that the research program is a front for commercial whaling, that the sample size is needlessly large and that equivalent information can be obtained by non-lethal means, for example by studying samples of whale tissue (such as skin) or faeces. The Japanese government sponsored Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which conducts the research, disagrees, stating that the information obtainable from tissue and/or faeces samples is insufficient and that the sample size is necessary in order to be representative.
Japan's scientific whaling program is controversial in anti-whaling countries. Countries opposed to whaling have passed non-binding resolutions in the IWC urging Japan to stop the program. Japan claims that whale stocks for some species are sufficiently large to sustain commercial hunting and blame filibustering by the anti-whaling side for the continuation of scientific whaling. Deputy whaling commissioner, Joji Morishita, told BBC News:
- The reason for the moratorium [on commercial whaling] was scientific uncertainty about the number of whales. ... It was a moratorium for the sake of collecting data and that is why we started scientific whaling. We were asked to collect more data.
Norway registered an objection to the International Whaling Commission moratorium and is thus not bound by it. Commercial whaling ceased for a five year period to allow a small scientific catch for gauging the stock's sustainability and resumed 1993. Minke whales are the only legally hunted species. Catches have fluctuated between 487 animals in 2000 to 592 in 2007. For the year 2011 the quota is set at 1286 Minke whales. The catch is made solely from the Northeast Atlantic minke whale population, which is estimated at 102,000.
Russia had a significant whaling hunt of orcas and dolphins along with Iceland and Japan. In 1970 a study published by Bigg M.A. following photographic recognition of orcas found a significant difference in the suspected ages of whale populations and their actual ages. Following this evidence, the Russians continued a scientific whale hunt, though the verisimilitude of the intentions of the hunt over the last 40 years are questioned. Currently Russians in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in the Russian Far East are permitted under IWC regulation to take up to 140 gray whales from the North-East Pacific population each year.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Natives of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the island of Bequia have a quota from the International Whaling Commission of up to four humpback whales per year using traditional hunting methods and equipment.
In the United States, whaling is carried out by nine different indigenous Alaskan communities. The whaling program is managed by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission which reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The hunt takes around 50 bowhead whales a year from a population of about 10,500 in Alaskan waters. Conservationists fear this hunt is not sustainable, though the IWC Scientific Committee, the same group that provided the above population estimate, projects a population growth of 3.2% per year. The hunt also took an average of one or two gray whales each year until 1996. The quota was reduced to zero in that year due to sustainability concerns. A future review may result in the gray whale hunt being resumed. Bowhead whales weigh approximately 5–10 times as much as minke whales.
The Makah tribe in Washington State also reinstated whaling in 1999, despite protests from animal rights groups. They are currently seeking to resume whaling of the gray whale, a right recognized in the Treaty of Neah Bay.
Season Catch 2003 48 2004 43 2005 68 2006 39 2007 63 All catches in 2003–2007 were Bowhead whales.
The World Wide Fund for Nature says that 90% of all northern right whales killed are from ship collision, calling for restrictions on the movement of shipping in certain areas. By-catch also kills more animals than hunting. Some scientists believe pollution to be a factor. Moreover, since the IWC moratorium, there have been several instances of illegal whale hunting by IWC nations. In 1994, the IWC reported evidence from genetic testing of whale meat and blubber for sale on the open market in Japan in 1993. In addition to the legally-permitted minke whale, the analyses showed that the 10–25% tissues sample came from non minke, baleen whales, neither of which were then allowed under IWC rules. Further research in 1995 and 1996 shows significant drop of non-minke baleen whales sample to 2.5%. In a separate paper, Baker stated that "many of these animals certainly represent a bycatch (incidental entrapment in fishing gear)" and stated that DNA monitoring of whale meat is required to adequately track whale products.
It was revealed in 1994 that the Soviet Union had been systematically undercounting its catch. For example, from 1948 to 1973, the Soviet Union caught 48,477 humpback whales rather than the 2,710 it officially reported to the IWC. On the basis of this new information, the IWC stated that it would have to rewrite its catch figures for the last forty years. According to Ray Gambell, then Secretary of the IWC, the organization had raised its suspicions with the former Soviet Union, but it did not take further action because it could not interfere with national sovereignty.
Key elements of the debate over whaling include sustainability, ownership, national sovereignty, cetacean intelligence, suffering during hunting, the value of lethal sampling to establish catch quotas, the value of controlling whales' impact on fish stocks and the rapidly approaching extinction of a few whale species.
2010 IWC meeting
At the 2010 meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Morocco, representatives of the 88 member nations discussed whether or not to lift the 24 year ban on commercial whaling. Japan, Norway and Iceland have urged the organization to lift the ban. A coalition of anti-whaling nations has offered a compromise plan that would allow these countries to continue whaling, but with smaller catches and under close supervision. Their plan would also completely ban whaling in the Southern Ocean. More than 200 scientists and experts have opposed the compromise proposal for lifting the ban, and have also opposed allowing whaling in the Southern Ocean, which was declared a whale sanctuary in 1994. Opponents of the compromise plan want to see an end to all commercial whaling, but are willing to allow subsistence-level catches by indigenous peoples.
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