All rights reserved. Credit: Kate Davison

Killing whales for food has been happening for millennia. But it was commercial whaling – turning whales into barrels of oil for profit – that led to the wholesale destruction of most of the world’s populations of big whales.The loss of whales from our oceans is the same story as overfishing of big fish – sharks, tuna, cod and others. It’s a tragedy for the species and has immense knock on effects across the ocean. We know that whales are important for the oceans, and we know that as long-lived, slow-growing animals they are much more susceptible to over-fishing than actual fish.

But there is some good news for whales. We have seen many populations showing signs of recovery since hunting was stopped. Whales are being found in greater numbers and seem to be reclaiming habitats they’ve been missing from for decades if not centuries. In the same way that recovering fish stocks generate cries of ‘let us catch more!’ from fishermen, the question now is – are some whales numerous enough that we can hunt them?

Well, here are ten reasons why we shouldn’t.

1)      We don’t know how well whales are recovering, because we don’t know how manythere once were or ‘should be’.

2)      We are still learning about whales, amazingly ‘new’ species like the dwarf pygmy whale, Omura’s whale, and species of beaked whale have only been discovered the last few decades.

3)      We now know that some whales have and pass on forms of ‘culture’, including humpbacks’ songs and orcas’ feeding strategies – whaling could have more impact on populations than sheer numbers.

4)      Whales are necessary for healthy oceans, mixing, distributing nutrients and helping deal with the impacts of climate change.

5)      Whales are full of persistent toxins, like mercury and PCBs. As long-lived and slow-growing animals they ‘bioaccumulate’ these in their blubber. This causes them problems when fighting disease and breeding, and can also makes them toxic if eaten.

6)      We’re killing whales indirectly every day – including ship strikesfisheries entanglementmilitary & seismic testing.  We are also displacing whales more and more, by industrial developments, destroying habitats, and filling the ocean with noise.

7)      Whales don’t understand national boundaries, and most species migrate in and out of different countries’ waters.

8)      We don’t know what the ongoing impacts of climate change on ocean life, including whales and their prey, will be.

9)      Commercial whaling, as with commercial hunting of virtually every large mammal or fish species has inevitably led to over-exploitation.

10)   We simply don’t need to. Commercial whaling in its hey-day was about oil production, not meat production. There is no demand for whale meat – and even where whale meat is sold to be eaten it’s a peripheral, small and declining industry, and makes no economic sense.

Whales today live in degraded oceans, depleted and fractured populations, and face a growing barrage of human threats. Given all of that we have to treat any notion of ‘recovery’ in an extremely precautionary way.

Commercial whaling is the one human threat to whales we can, and should, simply consign to history – the world’s remaining whale populations have enough to contend with. So let’s get on with talking about whale conservation instead.

Marine Wildlife at Vema Seamount. © Richard Barnden / Greenpeace Get Involved


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I'm doing a presentation in one of my classes and decided to do it on "ANTI - WHALING." This affects me as they are so beautiful and GOD'S precious creatures as we are. I was glad to hear commercial whaling is banned, but the other countries who still harm the whales for profit angers and hurts me! This should be a "WORLD WIDE" effort to protect them.


Why don’t you keep the oceans safe and not have overfishing and have restrictions on fishing. Because i think that we should have a restriction on where to fish and not kill sharks because sharks fin soup really why?. Dolphins don’t need to be killed because if you really care you should read this and do something about it. Same with whales why do you have to because they help us live. If the oceans die we die.


Thank you for your comment. Dramatically reducing seafood consumption in countries where possible is one of the most effective ways individuals can help protect the oceans. For years, Greenpeace has been telling people that eating less fish and having a plant-based diet is the key to ocean health. We have been campaigning for decades against the industrial food system that profits from the destruction of nature.