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History of commerical whaling

Page - April 1, 2008
Commercial whaling during the last century decimated most of the world's whale populations. Greenpeace began to take action on whaling in 1975, and has helped to win some steps towards safety for whales, such as the moratorium on commercial whaling that came into effect in 1986, and the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary in 1994. But three countries continue to hunt whales, Norway, Japan and Iceland.

Greenpeace encounter Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Ocean and attempt to disrupt the whaling operation. Greenpeace was using every available means to bring the hunt to an early end and make it the last time the Sanctuary is breached by the whalers.

Here's a summary of the story so far:

2006 - Icelandic government announces its decision to resume commercial whaling, and issues a licence to hunt 30 Minke and 9 endangered Fin whales. This decision is hugely controversial around the world, including in Iceland where it is harshly criticised by environmental groups, the tourism industry, and some politicians.

2006 - The pro-whaling block, backed by the Fisheries Agency of Japan, wins an important strategic vote at the IWC meeting in St Kitts 33 votes to 32. The vote is over "The St Kitts and Nevis Declaration" which states that in principle the moratorium "is no longer necessary". While this vote is not able to overturn the moratorium (a 75% majority vote is needed to do that), it is a wake-up call to the pro conservation nations around the world.

2006 - The Greenpeace ship 'Arctic Sunrise' is rammed by the Japanese Whaling ship 'Nisshin Maru' while protecting whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. Greenpeace ship the Esperanza was also in the Southern Ocean and a number of whales were saved from the harpoon by the crews.

2003 - Iceland resumes "scientific" whaling.

2002 - Mexico creates the world's largest national whale sanctuary - in all of its EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) in the Pacific, Atlantic and Caribbean Sea - to protect 21 species of cetaceans. Iceland is voted in as a full member of the IWC - despite refusing to follow the rules and despite their intention to resume whaling in 2006.

2000 - Japan and Norway attempt to remove the protected status of whales at the CITES meeting in Nairobi in April 2000. If successful this would pave the way for a return to international trade in whale products. They fail by a narrow margin.

1999 - Japan steps up its vote buying strategy at the IWC, and establishes a "blocking minority" to prevent the creation of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary.

1994 - Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary created to protect the great whales in their breeding grounds. Survey results show that over 5 million people go whale watching in 65 countries. This eco-tourism is actually more profitable than commercial whaling.

1993 - Norway lodges an objection to the moratorium and resumes commercial whaling, killing 500 minke whales per year.

1990 - Seven out of the nine remaining whaling nations agree to abandon the industry.

1987 - Japan begins its so-called "scientific" whaling programme.

1983 - The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) bans international commercial trade in whale meat and confers protected status on the world's great whales.

1982 - The IWC establishes a moratorium on commercial whaling, taking effect from 1986.

1979 - The anti-whaling lobby gains ground at the IWC, which establishes the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary as a practical conservation measure.

1975 - Greenpeace launches its anti-whaling campaign, confronting whaling fleets on the high seas. Faced with the realities of commercial whaling, public opinion begins to turn against the whalers.

1972 - The number of blue whales, the largest creatures on the planet, sinks to less than 6,000.

1964 - NZ stops commercial whaling as there are no longer enough whales to make whaling profitable.

1946 - The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is created by the world's 14 whaling nations to manage whale stocks.

1945 - General Douglas MacArthur, responsible for the post-war occupation of Japan, instructs the starving Japanese public to eat whale meat. The United States help to refit whaling ships and send them to the Southern Ocean.

1930 - 80% of the great whale species are feared to be on the verge of extinction.

1848 - Whaling enters the industrial age with the invention of the exploding harpoon.