International Whaling Commission Created (1946)

On December 2, 1946, a small group of the world’s nations that conducted whaling met in Washington, DC, and signed the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.  That Convention created the International Whaling Commission, a global group that oversees the conservation of whales and their relatives throughout the world’s oceans.

The Convention establishing the International Whaling Commission (IWC) states that the agreement and IWC were formed “…for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus mak[ing] possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.”  In other words, when created, the task of the IWC was to regulate whale stocks as renewable natural resources, to be harvested sustainably by the world’s whaling nations.  They addressed this charge by setting harvest regulations that governed whaling for many decades.  The regulations, like many early fishing rules, did little to reduce the overharvest of whales.  Consequently, a large range of nations and organizations have changed the IWC and whale management.

From a small number of members who represented whaling nations, the membership has grown to 87 countries, many of whom are landlocked and most of whom have no intention to conduct whaling.  Consequently, the IWC has become largely an environmental organization with the dominant view that whales and their relatives should not be harvested.  In 1986, therefore, the IWC set a moratorium on all commercial whaling.  The success of this moratorium is revealed in the growing populations of most whale species, including the de-listing of some populations of California gray and humpback whales from the U.S. Endangered Species List.  From a low of only a few hundred remaining individuals, populations of the blue whale, the world’s largest animal, have re-bounded several fold.  While blue whales are still far below sustainable levels, their continued presence on earth is assured.

Some whaling does continue, however. Both Norway and Iceland, IWC members, conduct commercial whaling on inshore stocks of smaller whales, operating under a provision of the convention that allows them to “object” to the catch limits imposed by the Commission.  Japan continues to conduct “scientific whaling” under the provisions of the IWC, but the actions of the Japanese are considered by many to be a sham that merely allows Japanese whalers to kill and sell whales.  Aboriginal whaling is allowed in several locations worldwide, including in Alaska, where Inuit hunters harvest bowhead whales.

The IWC relies strongly on the scientific community of whale biologists to provide the data for their decisions.  The Commission’s annual Scientific Committee meeting is attended by more than 200 scientists.  According to the U.S. Department of State, the IWC Scientific Committee is “…considered the preeminent scientific authority on large whales.”  With a moratorium on commercial whaling in place, the IWC has gone on to address other dangers to whale populations, including collisions with boats, entanglement in fishing gear, behavioral changes caused by whale-watching tourism and climate change.

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This Month in Conservation

December 1
William Temple Hornaday Born (1937)
December 2
International Whaling Commission Created (1946)
December 3
Ellen Swallow Richards, Pioneering Environmental Chemist, Born (1842)
December 4
Eastern Steller Sea Lion De-listed (2013)
December 5
World Soil Day
December 6
Eliot Porter Born (1901)
December 7
Beijing Issues First Red Alert for Air Pollution (2015)
December 8
American Bird Banding Association Formed (1909)
December 9
Wupatki National Monument Created (1924)
December 10
Olivier Messiaen Born (1908)
December 11
International Mountain Day
December 12
Paris Climate Agreement Adopted (2015)
December 13
Baiji Porpoise Declared Extinct (2006)
December 14
World Monkey Day
December 15
Chico Mendes Born (1944)
December 16
Carol Browner, 8th EPA Administrator, Born (1955)
December 17
Alexander Agassiz, Pioneering Oceanographer, Born (1835)
December 18
First Commercial Nuclear Energy Produced (1957)
December 19
Richard Leakey, Kenyan Conservationist, Born (1944)
December 20
“It’s A Wonderful Life” Released (1946)
December 20
Earliest Date for Winter Solstice
December 21
Trevor Kincaid Born (1872)
December 21
Dr. Robert Bullard, Father of Environmental Justice, Born (1946)
December 22
Lady Bird Johnson, Environmental First Lady, Born (1912)
December 22
Ruth Yeoh, Malaysian Environmentalist, Born (1982)
December 23
Times Beach, Missouri, Declared Uninhabitable
December 24
The Christmas Tree
December 25
European Rabbits Introduced to Australia (1859)
December 26
UN Convention to Combat Desertification Began (1996)
December 27
Second Voyage of the Beagle Began (1831)
December 28
Endangered Species Act Enacted (1973)
December 29
Convention on Biological Diversity Began (1993)
December 30
Six Geese A-Laying
December 31
John Denver, Singer-Songwriter and Conservationist, Born (1943)
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