What is whaling?

Page - October 9, 2007

Whaling 101

Whaling is the deliberate slaughter of whales (any and all species). Commercial whaling began back in the 1900s and continued decimating whale populations for decades. Species of whales have a slow reproductive rate. So, once a particular whale species was no longer easy to find (because most had been killed) whalers moved on to another species.

Finally, in 1986 the world realized that whaling had to end in order to save the remaining whales and a moratorium was implemented to halt commercial whaling, indefinitely.

Effects of Whaling are Long-Lasting

But, the story doesn't end there. Whaling was so rampant for so long that many species of whales may never recover. In the United States, the North Atlantic right whale has a lonely population of about 350. The blue whales of the Antarctic are at less than 1% of their original abundance. West Pacific grey whale populations are the most endangered of the world's great whales, hovering on the edge of extinction with just over 100 remaining.

And, endangered whales have many obstacles to face in these modern times-global warming, pollution, noise and ship strikes. Overfishing threatens their food supply and whales are at risk of entanglement in fishing gear.

Another obstacle whales face are the countries that continue whaling and refuse to comply with the moratorium-our international friends in Japan, Iceland and Norway.

Why Won't they Hang up Their Harpoons?

Two countries-Iceland and Norway- have flat out objected to the moratorium and now hunt whales in the North Atlantic. Although, in August of 2007 Iceland's fisheries minister announced he will not issue any more commercial whale-hunting quotas. With no market for the whale meat, Iceland's whaling has not been profitable. This is a good first step for Iceland, but we won't be satisfied until the minister announces he's hanging up the harpoons for good!

This brings us to Japan. Each year the Japanese whaling fleet hunts hundreds of whales (many endangered species included) in the name of "science."  That's right, the Japanese government has been using a loophole in international law to continue commercial whaling under the pretext of research. And this season, Japan has announced plans to hunt a total of 1,035 whales in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary alone (935 minkes, 50 endangered fin and 50 endangered humpbacks).

Japan hunts whales in the Antarctic and the North Pacific under the guise of "scientific research." However, the whale meat is packaged for sale in restaurants and supermarkets in Japan, and even included in school lunch programs there. And the Fisheries Agency of Japan freely admits that the objective of the "research" whaling program is to restore full-scale commercial whaling.  So the commercial nature of Japan's whaling operation is undeniable.

Whale meat - it's what's NOT for dinner

Despite the claims of all three governments, there is no demand for whale meat in their countries. Greenpeace recently discovered that much of the meat from last year's Icelandic commercial catch of endangered fin whales was discarded in a public waste dump outside Reykjavik. The 2006 Norwegian whaling season was halted mid-season by the government because the whale meat market was saturated. And in Japan, more than 5,000 tons of whale meat sits in cold storage, unsold, unused, and unwanted.

Stopping the Slaughter

Expectations for the recovery of whale populations have been based on the assumption that with the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling, their place in the oceans is as secure as it was a hundred years ago. Sadly, with the continued whaling by Japan, Norway, and Iceland, this assumption is no longer valid. This is why we believe that commercial whaling - by any name - must be stopped once and for all.