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To the left, the black-hulled whaling ships. To the right, the red-hulled whale-watching ship. Iceland, 2011. To the left, the black-hulled whaling ships. To the right, the red-hulled whale-watching ship.jpg
To the left, the black-hulled whaling ships. To the right, the red-hulled whale-watching ship. Iceland, 2011.

Whaling is the hunting of whales for their usable products such as meat and blubber, which can be turned into a type of oil which became increasingly important in the Industrial Revolution. It was practiced as an organized industry as early as 875 AD. By the 16th century, it had risen to be the principle industry in the coastal regions of Spain and France. The industry spread throughout the world, and became increasingly profitable in terms of trade and resources. Some regions of the world's oceans, along the animals' migration routes, had a particularly dense whale population, and became the targets for large concentrations of whaling ships, and the industry continued to grow well into the 20th century. The depletion of some whale species to near extinction led to the banning of whaling in many countries by 1969, and to a worldwide cessation of whaling as an industry in the late 1980s. The earliest forms of whaling date to at least circa 3000 BC. [1] Coastal communities around the world have long histories of subsistence use of cetaceans, by dolphin drive hunting and by harvesting drift whales. Industrial whaling emerged with organized fleets of whaleships 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. By the late 1930s more than 50,000 whales were killed annually. [2] In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling because of the extreme depletion of most of the whale stocks. [3]

Hunting Searching, pursuing, catching and killing wild animals

Hunting is the practice of killing or trapping animals, or pursuing or tracking them with the intent of doing so. Hunting wildlife or feral animals is most commonly done by humans for food, recreation, to remove predators that can be dangerous to humans or domestic animals, or for trade. Lawful hunting is distinguished from poaching, which is the illegal killing, trapping or capture of the hunted species. The species that are hunted are referred to as game or prey and are usually mammals and birds.

Whale Marine mammals of the order Cetacea

Whales are a widely distributed and diverse group of fully aquatic placental marine mammals. They are an informal grouping within the infraorder Cetacea, usually excluding dolphins and porpoises. Whales, dolphins and porpoises belong to the order Cetartiodactyla, which consists of even-toed ungulates. Their closest living relatives are the hippopotamuses, having diverged about 40 million years ago. The two parvorders of whales, baleen whales (Mysticeti) and toothed whales (Odontoceti), are thought to have split apart around 34 million years ago. Whales consist of eight extant families: Balaenopteridae, Balaenidae, Cetotheriidae, Eschrichtiidae, Monodontidae, Physeteridae, Kogiidae, and Ziphiidae.

Whale meat flesh of whales used for consumption by humans or other animals

Whale meat, broadly speaking, may include all cetaceans and all parts of the animal: muscle (meat), organs (offal), and fat (blubber). There is relatively little demand for it, compared to farmed livestock, and commercial whaling, which has faced opposition for decades, continues today in very few countries, although whale meat used to be eaten across Western Europe and colonial America. However, wherever dolphin drive hunting and aboriginal whaling exist, marine mammals are eaten locally as part of the subsistence economy: in the Faroe Islands; in the circumpolar Arctic ; other indigenous peoples of the United States ; in St. Vincent and the Grenadines ; in a couple of villages in Indonesia; in certain South Pacific islands.


Contemporary whaling is subject to intense debate. Countries that support commercial whaling, notably Iceland, Japan, and Norway, wish to lift the ban on certain whale stocks for hunting. [4] Anti-whaling countries and environmental groups oppose lifting the ban. Under the terms of the IWC moratorium, aboriginal whaling is allowed to continue on a subsistence basis. [5] Over the past few decades, whale watching has become a significant industry in many parts of the world; in some countries it has replaced whaling, but in a few others, the two business models exist in an uneasy tension. The live capture of cetaceans for display in aquaria (e.g. captive killer whales) continues.

Whaling in Iceland

Whaling in Iceland began with spear-drift hunting as early as the 12th century, and continued in a vestigial form until the late 19th century, when other countries introduced modern commercial practices. Today, Iceland is one of a handful of countries that formally object to an ongoing moratorium established by the International Whaling Commission in 1986, and that still maintain a whaling fleet. One company concentrates on hunting fin whales, largely for export to Japan, while the only other one hunts minke whales for domestic consumption, as the meat is popular with tourists. In 2018, Icelandic whalers were accused of slaughtering a blue whale.

Whaling in Japan

Japanese whaling, in terms of active hunting of these large mammals, is estimated by the Japan Whaling Association to have begun around the 12th century. However, Japanese whaling on an industrial scale began around the 1890s when Japan began to participate in the modern whaling industry, at that time an industry in which many countries participated. Japanese whaling activities have historically extended far outside Japanese territorial waters, even into whale sanctuaries protected by other countries.

Whaling in Norway involves subsidized hunting of minke whales for use as animal and human food in Norway and for export to Japan. Whale hunting has been a part of Norwegian coastal culture for centuries, and commercial operations targeting the minke whale have occurred since the early 20th century. Some still continue the practice in the modern day.


Eighteenth-century engraving showing Dutch whalers hunting bowhead whales in the Arctic 18th century arctic whaling.jpg
Eighteenth-century engraving showing Dutch whalers hunting bowhead whales in the Arctic
Whaling on Danes Island, by Abraham Speeck, 1634. Skokloster Castle. Maleri, genrebild. Valfangst - Skoklosters slott - 88972.tif
Whaling on Danes Island, by Abraham Speeck, 1634. Skokloster Castle.
One of the oldest known whaling paintings, by Bonaventura Peeters, depicting Dutch whalers at Spitzbergen circa 1645 Dutch Whaling Scene Bonaventura Peeters.JPG
One of the oldest known whaling paintings, by Bonaventura Peeters, depicting Dutch whalers at Spitzbergen circa 1645

Whaling began in prehistoric times in coastal waters. The earliest depictions of whaling are the Neolithic Bangudae Petroglyphs in Korea, which may date back to 6000 BC. [6] These images are the earliest evidence for whaling. [7] Although prehistoric hunting and gathering is generally considered to have had little ecological impact, early whaling in the Arctic may have altered freshwater ecology. [8]

Territorial waters Coastal waters that are part of a nation-states sovereign territory

The term territorial waters is sometimes used informally to refer to any area of water over which a state has jurisdiction, including internal waters, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and potentially the continental shelf. In a narrower sense, the term is used as a synonym for the territorial sea.

Bangudae Petroglyphs

Korea's National Treasure No. 285, the Bangudae Petroglyphs, are located mainly on flat vertical rock faces around 8m wide and around 5m high on steep cliffs on the riverside of the Daegokcheon stream, a branch of the Taehwa River, which runs eastward and joins the East Sea at Ulsan. The surrounding ten rock faces have a small number of engravings as well. The rocks consist of shale and hornfels oriented toward the north and they shine for a while at sunset. As an overhanging cliff they are in the structure of a rock shelter.

Hunter-gatherer human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging (collecting wild plants and pursuing wild animals)

A hunter-gatherer is a human living in a society in which most or all food is obtained by foraging. Hunter-gatherer societies stand in contrast to agricultural societies, which rely mainly on domesticated species.

Early whaling affected the development of widely disparate cultures such as Norway and Japan, [9] both of which continue to hunt in the 21st century. The Basques were the first to catch whales commercially, and dominated the trade for five centuries, spreading to the far corners of the North Atlantic and even reaching the South Atlantic. The development of modern whaling techniques was spurred in the 19th century by the increase in demand for whale oil, [10] sometimes known as "train oil", and in the 20th century by a demand for margarine and later whale meat.

Whale oil is the oil obtained from several species of whales of the Balenidae family

Whale oil is oil obtained from the blubber of whales. Whale oil was sometimes known as train oil, which comes from the Dutch word traan.

Margarine semi-solid emulsion

Margarine is a spread used for flavoring, baking, and cooking that was first made in France in 1869. It was created by Hippolyte Mège-Mouriès in response to a challenge by Emperor Napoleon III to create a butter substitute from beef tallow for the armed forces and lower classes. It was named oleomargarine from Latin for oleum and Greek margarite but was later named margarine.

Many countries which once had significant industries, such as the Netherlands, Scotland, and Argentina, ceased whaling long ago, and so are not covered in this article.

Whaling in the Netherlands

Whaling in the Netherlands was a centuries-long tradition. The history of Dutch whaling begins with 17th-century exploration of Arctic fishing grounds; and the profitability of whaling in the 18th century drove further growth. Increased competition and political upheavals in Europe affected the stability of this maritime industry in the 19th century; and a combination of these factors cut short any further growth of Dutch whaling in the Antarctic.

Whaling in Scotland

The first evidence for whaling in Scotland is from Bronze Age settlements where whalebones were used for constructing and decorating dwelling places. Commercial whaling started in the Middle Ages, and by the 1750s most Scottish ports were whaling, with the Edinburgh Whale-Fishing Company being founded in 1749. The last company still engaged in whaling was Christian Salvesen, which exited the industry in 1963.

Whaling in Argentina

Whaling in Argentina was a major industry in both the South Pacific and South Atlantic coasts, and around the Falkland Islands. The primary whalers were Norwegian and Scottish ships, and the primary quarry the southern right whale.


A modern whaling vessel in Germany Bremerhaven 26 (RaBoe).jpg
A modern whaling vessel in Germany
Whales caught 2010-2014, by country Whales caught recently.png
Whales caught 2010-2014, by country

The primary species hunted are minke whales, [11] belugas, narwhals, [12] and pilot whales. which are some of the smallest species of whales. There are also smaller numbers killed of gray whales, sei whales, fin whales, bowhead whales, Bryde's whales, sperm whales and humpback whales.

Minke whale colloquial name of two whale species

The minke whale, or lesser rorqual, is a species complex of baleen whale. The two species of minke whale are the common minke whale and the Antarctic minke whale. The minke whale was first described by the Danish naturalist Otto Fabricius in 1780, who assumed it must be an already known species and assigned his specimen to Balaena rostrata, a name given to the northern bottlenose whale by Otto Friedrich Müller in 1776. In 1804, Bernard Germain de Lacépède described a juvenile specimen of Balaenoptera acuto-rostrata. The name is a partial translation of Norwegian minkehval, possibly after a Norwegian whaler named Meincke, who mistook a northern minke whale for a blue whale.

Pilot whale genus of dolphins in the order Cetacea

Pilot whales are cetaceans belonging to the genus Globicephala. The two extant species are the long-finned pilot whale and the short-finned pilot whale. The two are not readily distinguishable at sea, and analysis of the skulls is the best way to distinguish between the species. Between the two species, they range nearly worldwide, with long-finned pilot whales living in colder waters and short-finned pilot whales living in tropical and subtropical waters. Pilot whales are among the largest of the oceanic dolphins, exceeded in size only by the killer whale. They and other large members of the dolphin family are also known as blackfish.

Gray whale species of mammal

The gray whale, also known as the grey whale, gray back whale, Pacific gray whale, or California gray whale, is a baleen whale that migrates between feeding and breeding grounds yearly. It reaches a length of 14.9 meters (49 ft), a weight of 36 tonnes, and lives between 55 and 70 years. The common name of the whale comes from the gray patches and white mottling on its dark skin. Gray whales were once called devil fish because of their fighting behavior when hunted. The gray whale is the sole living species in the genus Eschrichtius, which in turn is the sole living genus in the family Eschrichtiidae. This mammal descended from filter-feeding whales that appeared at the beginning of the Oligocene, over 30 million years ago.

Recent scientific surveys estimate a population of 103,000 minkes 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." [13]

Whale oil is used little today [14] and modern whaling is primarily done for food: for pets, fur farms, sled dogs and humans, and for making carvings of tusks, teeth and vertebrae. [15] Both meat and blubber (muktuk) are eaten from narwhals, belugas and bowheads. From commercially hunted minkes, meat is eaten by humans or animals, and blubber is rendered down mostly to cheap industrial products such as animal feed or, in Iceland, as a fuel supplement for whaling ships.

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 orderly development of the whaling industry. [16]

International Whaling Commission

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. It regulates hunting of 13 species of great whales, and has not reached consensus on whether it may regulate smaller species. [17]

The IWC voted on July 23, 1982, to establish a moratorium on commercial whaling of great whales 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.

At the 2010 meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Morocco, representatives of the 88 member states discussed whether or not to lift the 24-year ban on commercial whaling. Japan, Norway and Iceland have urged the organisation 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. [18] 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. [19] [20] 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. [18]

Whaling catches by location

These totals include great whales: counts from IWC [21] and WDC [22] and IWC Summary Catch Database version 6.1, July 2016. [23]

The IWC database is supplemented by Faroese catches of pilot whales, [24] Greenland's and Canada's catches of narwhals (data 1954-2014), [25] belugas from multiple sources shown in the Beluga whale article, Indonesia's catches of sperm whales, [26] [27] and bycatch in Korea. [28]

Whales Caught, by Country and Species, 2010-2014
CountryCommercial or AboriginalTotalMinkeBelugasNarwhalsPilot WhalesGraySeiFinBowheadBryde'sSpermHumpbackOrca
Faroe IslandsA3,6983,698
South KoreaC37636811222
St. Vincent+ GrenadinesA1313

Ongoing debate

Key elements of the debate over whaling include sustainability, ownership, national sovereignty, cetacean intelligence, suffering during hunting, health risks, 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.


Dominoes made from whale bones in Germany Domino whale-bone hg.jpg
Dominoes made from whale bones in Germany
Whales Caught, by year, including corrected USSR totals; source has data by species Baleines.png
Whales Caught, by year, including corrected USSR totals; source has data by species

The World Wide Fund for Nature says that 90% of all northern right whales killed by human activities are from ship collision, calling for restrictions on the movement of shipping in certain areas.[ citation needed ] Noise pollution threatens the existence of cetaceans. Large ships and boats make a tremendous amount of noise that falls into the same frequency range of many whales. [29] By-catch also kills more animals than hunting. [30] Some scientists believe pollution to be a factor. [31] 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 [32] of whale meat and blubber for sale on the open market in Japan in 1993. [33] 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%. [34] 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. [35]

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. [36] On the basis of this new information, the IWC stated that it would have to rewrite its catch figures for the last forty years. [37] 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. [38]

By country


Whaling was a major maritime industry in Australia from 1791 until its final cessation in 1978. At least 45 whaling stations operated in Tasmania during the 19th century and bay whaling was conducted out of a number of other mainland centres. Modern whaling using harpoon guns and iron hulled catchers was conducted in the twentieth century from shore-based stations in Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, also in Norfolk Island. Overfishing saw the closure of some whaling stations before a government ban on the industry was introduced in 1978.


Young butchered beluga on the beach of the Inuit village of Salluit, Quebec, July 2001 Beluga Hunt Salluit.jpg
Young butchered beluga on the beach of the Inuit village of Salluit, Quebec, July 2001

Canadians kill about 600 narwhals per year. [12] They kill 100 belugas per year in the Beaufort Sea, [39] [40] 300 in northern Quebec (Nunavik), [41] and an unknown number in Nunavut. The total annual kill in Beaufort and Quebec areas varies between 300 and 400 belugas per year. Numbers are not available for Nunavut since 2003, when the Arviat area, with about half Nunavut's hunters, killed 200-300 belugas, though the authors say hunters resist giving complete numbers. [42]

Harvested meat is sold through shops and supermarkets in northern communities where whale meat is a component of the traditional diet. [43] Hunters in Hudson's Bay rarely eat beluga meat. They give a little to dogs, and leave the rest for wild animals. [15] Other areas may dry the meat for later consumption by humans. An average of one or two vertebrae and one or two teeth per beluga or narwhal are carved and sold. [15] One estimate of the annual gross value received from Beluga hunts in Hudson Bay in 2013 was CA$600,000 for 190 belugas, or CA$3,000 per beluga, andCA$530,000 for 81 narwhals, or CA$6,500 per narwhal. However the net income, after subtracting costs in time and equipment, was a loss of CA$60 per person for belugas and CA$7 per person for narwhals. Hunts receive subsidies, but they continue as a tradition, rather than for the money, and the economic analysis noted that whale watching may be an alternate revenue source. Of the gross income, CA$550,000 was for Beluga skin and meat, to replace beef, pork and chickens which would otherwise be bought, CA$50,000 was received for carved vertebrae and teeth. CA$370,000 was for Narwhal skin and meat, CA$150,000 was received for tusks, and carved vertebrae and teeth of males, and CA$10,000 was received for carved vertebrae and teeth of female Narwhals. [15]

Two Senators, members of First Nations, said in 2018,

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation says:[ when? ]

Canada left the IWC in 1982, and the only IWC-regulated species currently harvested by the Canadian Inuit is the bowhead whale. [46] 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. [47] This is roughly one-fiftieth of the bowhead whale harvest limits in Alaska (see below).


Faroe Islands

Killed pilot whales on the beach in Hvalba, Faroe Islands Killed pilot wales in hvalba, faroe islands crop.JPG
Killed pilot whales on the beach in Hvalba, Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are legally part of the Kingdom of Denmark, but are geographically isolated and cultually distinct. The hunt, known as the Grindadráp, is regulated by Faroese authorities but not by the IWC, which does not claim jurisdiction over small cetaceans.

Around 800 long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melaena) are caught each year, mainly during the summer. Other species are not hunted, though occasionally Atlantic white-sided dolphin can be found among the pilot whales.

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.


Whales caught per year Whales Nordic.png
Whales caught per year

Greenlandic Inuit whalers catch around 175 large whales per year, mostly minke whales, [48] as well as 360 narwhals, [12] 200 belugas, [49] [50] 190 pilot whales and 2,300 porpoises. [51]

IWC sets limits for large whales. The government of Greenland sets limits for narwhals and belugas. There are no limits on pilot whales and porpoises. [52]

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. The average per year from 2012-2016 was around 150 minke and 17 fin whales and humpback whales taken from west coast waters and around 10 minke from east coast waters. In April 2009 Greenland landed its first bowhead whale in nearly forty years. It landed three bowheads each year in 2009 and 2010, one each in 2011 and 2015.

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 an inflated 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. [53]


Being originally one of the most successful whaling nations, German whaling vessels started from Hamburg and other, smaller cities on the Elbe river, hunting for whales around Greenland and Spitsbergen. While 1770 is recorded to have been the most successful year of German whaling, German whaling went into steep decline with the beginning of the Napoleonic Wars and never really recovered. After the Napoleonic Wars, Germany tried but could never re-establish a successful whaling industry. German whaling boats in the mid to late 1800s would generally not be staffed with experienced sailors but rather with members of more wealthy farming communities, going for short trips to Scandinavia during the end of spring / beginning of summer, when their labor was not required on the fields. This kind of whaling was ineffective. Many journeys would not lead to any whales caught, instead seal- and polar bear skins were brought back to shore. Communities often paid more for equipping the vessels in the first place than making money with the goods brought back to shore. Today, local historians believe that German whaling in the late 1800s was more a rite of passage for the sons of wealthy farmers from northern German islands than an action undertaken for true commercial reason. German whaling was abandoned in 1872.

Prior to the first world war, attempts to re-establish large scale German whaling were undertaken with ships either going from Germany to Iceland or from the newly established German colonies to African waters. This attempts never were commercially successful and quickly given up. Only in the 1930s Germany could - with mainly Norwegian personnel - re-establish a large and successful whaling industry with more than 15 000 caught whales between 1930 and 1939. With the beginning of the second world war, German whaling was abandoned completely.

In the early 1950s, Germany maintained one whaling vessel for testing purpose as it considered re-establishing a German whaling fleet, but abandoned these plans in 1956. The last remaining German whalers worked for Dutch vessels in the 1950s and 1960s.


Icelandic whaling vessels Icelandic whalers 08.JPG
Icelandic whaling vessels
Minke whale meat kebabs, Reykjavik, Iceland Mink Whale Meat Iceland.JPG
Minke whale meat kebabs, Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland is one of a handful of countries that still maintain a whaling fleet. One company concentrates on hunting fin whales, largely for export to Japan, while the only other one hunts minke whales for domestic consumption, as the meat is popular with tourists. [54] Iceland now has its own whale watching sector, which exists in uneasy tension with the whaling industry. [55]

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,[ citation needed ] 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, [56] 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 was 30 minke whales (out of an estimated 174,000 animals in the central and north-eastern North Atlantic [57] ) and nine fin whales (out of an estimated 30,000 animals in the central and north-eastern North Atlantic [57] [58] ). For the 2012 commercial whaling season, starting in April and lasting six months, the quota was set to 216 minke whales, [59] of which 52 were caught. [60]


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 United Nations'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." [61] Lamalerans say they returned the ship because they immediately caught five sperm whales, too many to butcher and eat without refrigeration. [62] Since these communities only hunt whales for noncommercial purposes, it is categorized as 'aboriginal subsistence hunters' by International Whaling Commission (IWC). [63]

The Lamalerans hunt for several species of whales but catching sperm whales are preferable, while other whales, such as baleen whales, are considered taboo to hunt. [61] They caught five sperm whales in 1973, about 40 per year in the 1960s and mid 1990s, 13 total from 2002-2006, 39 in 2007, [62] an average of 20 per year through 2014, and 3 in 2015. [64]

Traditional Lamaleran whaling used wooden fishing boats built by a group of local craftsmen clan called ata molã and the fishermen will mourn the "death" of their ships for two months. [61] These days, the Lamalerans use motor engine to power their boats; however, their tradition dictates that once a whale has been caught, fishermen will have to row their boats and the whale back to the shore. The traditional practices made whaling a dangerous hunt. In one case, a boat was pulled approximately 120 km away towards Timor (see Nantucket sleighride), while in another case, the hunted whale capsized the boat and forced the fishermen to swim for 12 hours back to the shore. [63]


Traditional Whaling in Taiji.jpg
Japanese narrative screen showing a whale hunt off Wakayama

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. According to the BBC, America went back on this promise, effectively destroying the deal. [65] Since Japan could not resume commercial whaling, it began whaling on a purported 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.” [66] [67] The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society has attempted to disrupt Japanese whaling in the Antarctic since 2003.

The stated purpose of the research program is to establish the size and dynamics of whale populations.[ citation needed ] 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 feces. [68] The Japanese government sponsored Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which conducts the research, disagrees, stating that the information obtainable from tissue and/or feces samples is insufficient and that the sample size is necessary in order to be representative.[ citation needed ]

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. [69]

This collusive relationship between the whaling industry and the Japanese government is sometimes criticized by pro-whaling activists who support local, small-scale coastal whaling such as the Taiji dolphin drive hunt. [70]


Norwegian catches (1946-2005) in red and quotas (1994-2006) in blue of Minke Whale, from Norwegian official statistics NorwegianWhaleCatches.png
Norwegian catches (1946–2005) in red and quotas (1994–2006) in blue of Minke Whale, from Norwegian official statistics

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 1,286 minke whales. [71] The catch is made solely from the Northeast Atlantic minke whale population, which is estimated at 102,000. [72]


Whaling in the Philippines has been illegal since 1997 since the Fisheries Administrative Order 185 of 1991 was amended. The order initially only made illegal the catching, selling, or transporting of dolphins but the 1997 amendment widened the scope of the ban to include all Cetaceans including whales. [73] The calls for ban on whaling and dolphin hunting in the Philippines were raised by both domestic and international groups after local whaling and dolphin hunting traditions of residents of Pamilacan in Bohol were featured in newspapers in the 1990s. As compromise for residents of Pamilacan who were dependent on whaling and dolphin hunting, whale and dolphin watching is being promoted in the island as a source of tourism income. [74] Despite the ban, it is believed that the whaling industry in the Philippines did not cease to exist but went underground. [73]


Russia had a significant whaling hunt of orcas and dolphins along with Iceland and Japan. The Soviet Union's harvest of over 534,000 whales between the 1960s and the 1970s has been called one of the most senseless environmental crimes of the 20th century. [75] 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 Soviet Union and then Russia continued a scientific whale hunt, though the verisimilitude of the intentions of the hunt over the last 40 years are questioned. [76] [77]

The Soviet Union's intensive whaling from 1948 to 1972 was controlled and managed by the central government. In Soviet society, whaling was perceived to be a glamorous and well-paid job. Whalers were esteemed as well-traveled adventurers, and their return to land was often celebrated elaborately such as with fanfare and parades. In regard to economics, the Soviet Union transformed from a "rural economy into an industrial giant" by disregarding the sustainability of a resource to fill high production targets. [78] The government had controlled all industries, including fisheries, and whaling was not constrained by the need for sustainability through profits. Managers' and workers' production was incentivized with salary bonuses of 25%-60% and various other benefits, awards, and privileges. Many industries, whaling included, became a “manic numbers game”. [78]

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. About 40 beluga whales are caught in the Sea of Okhotsk each year. [79] There are no recent data on catches in the Arctic Ocean or Bering Sea, where about 60 belugas per year were caught in the early 1980s. [80]

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Boy in Bequia in the Grenadines carrying meat of a humpback whale (2007) Whalemeat.jpg
Boy in Bequia in the Grenadines carrying meat of a humpback whale (2007)

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. [81]

South Korea

In early July 2012, during IWC discussions in Panama, South Korea said it would undertake scientific whaling as allowed despite the global moratorium on whaling. South Korea's envoy to the summit, Kang Joon-Suk, said that consumption of whale meat "dates back to historical times" and that there had been an increase in the minke whale population since the ban took place in 1986. "Legal whaling has been strictly banned and subject to strong punishments, though the 26 years have been painful and frustrating for the people who have been traditionally taking whales for food." He said that South Korea would undertake whaling in its own waters. New Zealand's Commissioner Gerard van Bohemen accused South Korea of putting the whale population at risk. He also cited Japan as having not contributed to science for several years despite undertaking scientific whaling. New Zealand's stated position may be seen by its media as less solid than Australia's on the matter given that its indigenous people are pushing forward with plans, unopposed by the government, to recommence whaling there. [82] The people of Ulsan have also traditionally and contemporarily eaten whale meat. [83] South Korea's representative at the IWC said that "this is not a forum for moral debate. This is a forum for legal debate. As a responsible member of the commission we do not accept any such categorical, absolute proposition that whales should not be killed or caught." [84]

United States

A traditional whaling crew in Alaska Hopson Whaling Crew.jpg
A traditional whaling crew in Alaska

In the United States, beluga whaling is widely carried out, catching about 300 belugas per year, [39] monitored by the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee. The annual catch ranges between 250-600 per year.

Subsistence hunting of the bowhead whale is carried out by nine different indigenous Alaskan communities, and 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. [85]

The Makah tribe in Washington State also reinstated whaling in 1999, despite protests from animal rights groups. They are currently[ when? ] seeking to resume whaling of the gray whale, [86] a right recognized in the Treaty of Neah Bay, within limits (Article 4 of the Treaty).

SeasonCatch [87]
All catches in 2003–2007 were bowhead whales.

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Further reading

Related Research Articles

Cetacea Order of mammals

Cetaceans are aquatic mammals constituting the infraorder Cetacea. There are around 89 living species, which are divided into two parvorders. The first is the Odontoceti, the toothed whales, which consist of around 70 species, including the dolphin, porpoise, beluga whale, narwhal, sperm whale, and beaked whale. The second is the Mysticeti, the baleen whales, which have a filter-feeder system, and consist of 15 species divided into 3 families, and include the right whale, bowhead whale, rorqual, pygmy right whale, and gray whale.

International Whaling Commission

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is an international body set up by the terms of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), which was signed in Washington, D.C., United States, on December 2, 1946 to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry".

Whale watching

Whale watching is the practice of observing whales and dolphins (cetaceans) in their natural habitat. Whale watching is mostly a recreational activity, but it can also serve scientific and/or educational purposes. A study prepared for International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2009 estimated that 13 million people went whale watching globally in 2008. Whale watching generates $2.1 billion per annum in tourism revenue worldwide, employing around 13,000 workers. The size and rapid growth of the industry has led to complex and continuing debates with the whaling industry about the best use of whales as a natural resource.

Institute of Cetacean Research non-profit organisation in Japan which claims to be a research organization

The Institute of Cetacean Research: is a non-profit organisation in Japan which claims to be a research organization specializing in the "biological and social sciences related to whales".

Aboriginal whaling

Indigenous whaling is the hunting of whales by indigenous peoples. It is permitted under international regulation, but in some countries remains a contentious issue. It is usually considered part of the subsistence economy. In some places whaling has been superseded by whale watching instead. This articles deals with communities that continue to hunt; details about communities that have ended the practice may be found at History of whaling.

History of whaling

This article discusses the history of whaling from prehistoric times up to the commencement of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986.

The Cumberland Sound belugas are a distinct population of belugas residing in the Cumberland Sound region of the Labrador Sea off the coast of Nunavut, Canada Individuals of this population reside in the sound year-round, congregating in its extreme north exclusively at Clearwater Fjord during the summer for calving. The Cumberland Sound beluga population is considered fairly isolated and genetically distinct from other beluga populations, with a notable number of haplotypes and microsatellite loci not found elsewhere.

Dolphin drive hunting

Dolphin drive hunting, also called dolphin drive fishing, is a method of hunting dolphins and occasionally other small cetaceans by driving them together with boats and then usually into a bay or onto a beach. Their escape is prevented by closing off the route to the open sea or ocean with boats and nets. Dolphins are hunted this way in several places around the world, including the Solomon Islands, the Faroe Islands, Peru, and Japan, the most well-known practitioner of this method. By numbers, dolphins are mostly hunted for their meat; some end up in dolphinariums.

IWC meeting in 2006

The International Whaling Commission meeting in 2006 was held 16 June–20 June in St Kitts and Nevis. Pro whaling countries unsuccessfully challenged the 1982 moratorium, yet succeeded in shifting the IWC focus from whale conservation to management of commercial whaling. A full provisional meeting agenda can be seen here :Annotated Provisional Agenda (PDF) Live coverage of the Meeting is available each year here:

The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is an area of 50 million square kilometres surrounding the continent of Antarctica where the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has banned all types of commercial whaling. To date, the IWC has designated two such sanctuaries, the other being the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Whaling in the United States

Commercial whaling in the United States dates to the 17th century in New England. The industry peaked in 1846–1852, and New Bedford, Massachusetts, sent out its last whaler, the John R. Mantra, in 1927.The Whaling industry was engaged with the production of three different raw materials: whale oil, spermaceti oil, and whalebone. Whale oil was the result of "trying-out" whale blubber by heating in water. It was a primary lubricant for machinery, whose expansion through the Industrial Revolution depended upon before the development of petroleum-based lubricants in the second half of the 19th century.

Whale conservation

Whale conservation is the international environmental and ethical debate over whale hunting. The conservation and anti-whaling debate has focused on issues of sustainability as well as ownership and national sovereignty. Also raised in conservation efforts is the question of cetacean intelligence, the level of suffering which the animals undergo when caught and killed, and the importance that the mammals play in the ecosystem and a healthy marine environment.


Anti-whaling refers to actions taken by those who seek to end whaling in various forms, whether locally or globally in the pursuit of marine conservation. Such activism is often a response to specific conflicts with pro-whaling countries and organizations that practice commercial whaling and/or research whaling, as well as with indigenous groups engaged in subsistence whaling. Some anti-whaling factions have received criticism and legal action for extreme methods including violent direct action. The term anti-whaling may also be used to describe beliefs and activities related to these actions.

Marine mammals as food

Marine mammals are a food source in many countries around the world. Historically, they were hunted by coastal people, and in the case of aboriginal whaling, still are. This sort of subsistence hunting was on a small scale and produced only localised effects. Dolphin drive hunting continues in this vein, from the South Pacific to the North Atlantic. The commercial whaling industry and the maritime fur trade, which had devastating effects on marine mammal populations, did not focus on the animals as food, but for other resources, namely whale oil and seal fur.

Whaling in Canada encompasses both aboriginal and commercial whaling, and has existed on all three Canadian oceans, Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic. The indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast have whaling traditions dating back millennia, and the hunting of cetaceans continues by Inuit. Commercial whaling was one of the stimuli for Europeans to explore the sub-Arctic and Arctic, possibly as early as the 14th century. By the late 20th century, watching whales was a more profitable enterprise than hunting them.