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 88 countries (as of November, 2022), 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 rebounded several fold.  While blue whales are still far below sustainable levels, their continued presence on earth is assured.

The blue whale, the world’s largest animal, is protected under the rules of the International Whaling Commission. (photo by TBjornstad, NOAA Fisheries)

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.

The IWC is headed by an Executive Secretary who oversees a small staff operating out of Cambridge, England.  The Commission holds a general meeting every two years at which the rules for whaling are considered.  The most recent meeting was held in Slovenia in October, 2022..

References:

International Whaling Commission.  History and purpose.  Available at:  https://iwc.int/history-and-purpose.  Accessed December 4, 2017.

U.S. Department of State.  International Whaling Commission (IWC).  Available at:  https://www.state.gov/e/oes/ocns/opa/biodiversity/whale/.  Accessed December 4, 2017.

This Month in Conservation

February 1
Afobaka Dam and Operation Gwamba (1964)
February 2
Groundhog Day
February 3
George Adamson, African Lion Rehabilitator, Born (1906)
February 4
Congress Overrides President Reagan’s Veto of Clean Water Act (1987)
February 5
National Wildlife Federation Created (1936)
February 6
Colin Murdoch, Inventor of the Tranquilizer Gun, Born (1929)
February 7
Karl August Mobius, Ecology Pioneer, Born (1825)
February 8
President Johnson Addresses Congress about Conservation (1965)
February 8
Lisa Perez Jackson, Environmental Leader, Born (1982)
February 9
U.S. Fish Commission Created (1871)
February 10
Frances Moore Lappe, author of Diet for a Small Planet, born (1944)
February 11
International Day of Women and Girls in Science
February 12
Judge Boldt Affirms Native American Fishing Rights (1974)
February 13
Thomas Malthus Born (1766)
February 14
Nature’s Faithful Lovers
February 15
Complete Human Genome Published (2001)
February 16
Kyoto Protocol, Controlling Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, Begins (2005)
February 16
Alvaro Uglade, Father of Costa Rica’s National Parks, Born (1946)
February 17
Sombath Somphone, Laotian Environmentalist, Born (1952)
February 17
R. A. Fischer, Statistician, Born (1890)
February 18
Julia Butterfly Hill, Tree-Sitter, Born (1974)
February 18
World Pangolin Day
February 19
Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial Established (1962)
February 20
Ansel Adams, Nature Photographer, Born (1902)
February 21
Carolina Parakeet Goes Extinct (1918)
February 22
Nile Day
February 23
Italy’s Largest Inland Oil Spill (2010)
February 24
Joseph Banks, British Botanist, Born (1743)
February 25
First Federal Timber Act Passed (1799)
February 26
Four National Parks Established (1917-1929)
February 27
International Polar Bear Day
February 28
Watson and Crick Discover The Double Helix (1953)
February 29
Nature’s Famous Leapers
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