Commercial Whaling Banned (1982)

Whales are among the world’s most beloved animals.  They are large mammals whose complex social behavior enthralls humans.  We love to watch them, listen to them, draw them and cuddle with stuffed resemblances.  And, for most of history, we loved to capture them, eat their flesh and use their body oils for energy.

Whaling has been around for centuries (photo by Anagoria)

            That all changed with a decision by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on July 23, 1982.  The IWC’s members voted to enact a moratorium on commercial whaling to begin in 1986 and continue indefinitely.  The rule affected the “schedule,” which is the allowable catch of whales, broken down by species, stock and location.  A table that had filled many pages with numbers could now be reduced to just one number—0.  The decision stated that “Notwithstanding the other provisions of paragraph 10, catch limits for the killing for commercial purposes of whales from all stocks for the 1986 coastal and the 1985/86 pelagic seasons and thereafter shall be zero.”  Every two years, the IWC meets to update the schedule (and do much other work to conserve whales and their relatives), and at every meeting since 1982, the organization has maintained the moratorium.

Protest against Japan’s continued whaling as science (photo by Takver)

            But it isn’t quite that simple because small amounts of whaling continue.  First, member nations can file an “objection” to the ban, making them exempt from following it.  Norway has done so since the beginning, and it conducts commercial whaling for minke whales along its coast.  Second, a nation can simply withdraw from the IWC.  Iceland did so for about a decade in the 1990s, but it has since rejoined—but with an objection that allows the country to continue hunting whales.  Third, the prohibition on commercial whaling still allows whale harvest by aboriginal peoples in Alaska, Canada and Russia.

            The real controversy in the moratorium (in the general IWC rules, actually), however, has been the provision for “scientific whaling.”  A member nation can capture and kill whales, if necessary, to improve understanding of whale population dynamics—rates of reproduction, paths of migration, rates of growth, overall health of the animals.  Japan conducted such scientific whaling since the beginning of the moratorium, which has always been a source of diplomatic stress and some violent confrontations.  In 2018, Japan withdrew from the IWC and has now resumed whaling around its coasts.

The humpback whale has recovered under the moratorium (Photo by Stan Butler, NOAA)

            Without question, however, the IWC in general and the moratorium in particular have been successful.  The killing of whales has declined precipitously; more than 2 million whales were killed in the century before the moratorium, a small fraction of that since.  The reduced hunting pressure has allowed stocks of m0st whale species to rebound.  The western South Atlantic stock of humpback whales, for example, has increased from 1,000 to nearly 25,000 over the course of the moratorium. 

            As has been the story with species after species of wild animals, when hunting pressure drops, a species can recover.  And when the world comes together for the cause of conservation, conservation even the most critical cases can recover, too.

References:

Greenpeace.  International Whaling Commission.  https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/oceans/save-the-whales/international-whaling-commission/.  Accessed March 31, 2020.

International Whaling Commission.  History and purpose.  Available at:  https://iwc.int/history-and-purpose. Accessed March 31, 2020.

Whiting, Kate.  2019.  This is how humans have affected whale populations over the years.  World Economic Forum, 26 Oct 2019.  Available at:  https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/10/whales-endangered-species-conservation-whaling/. Accessed March 31, 2020.

World Wildlife Fund.  2005.  The History of Whaling and the International Whaling Commission (IWC).  Available at:  https://wwf.panda.org/?13796/The-History-of-Whaling-and-the-International-Whaling-Commission-IWC.  Accessed March 31, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

September 1
Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon, Died (1914)
September 2
President Roosevelt Dedicated Great Smoky National Park (1940)
September 3
Wilderness Act passed (1964)
September 4
Fort Bragg, Home of Red-cockaded Woodpeckers, Established (1918)
September 5
UNESCO Established First World Heritage Sites (1978)
September 6
Alcide d’Orbigny, French Naturalist, Born (1802)
September 7
Edward Birge, Father of Limnology, born (1851)
September 8
UN Millennium Declaration ratified (2000)
September 9
First “Bug” Found in Computer (1945)
September 10
Henry Hardtner, Father of Southern Forestry, Born (1870)
September 11
World Wildlife Fund Began Operations (1961)
September 12
Canyonlands National Park Established (1964)
September 13
Walter Reed born (1851)
September 14
Marc Reisner, Author of Cadillac Desert (1948)
September 15
Darwin reaches the Galapagos Islands (1835)
September 16
Ed Begley Jr., Environmental Advocate, born (1949)
September 17
Edgar Wayburn, Wilderness Advocate, Born (1906)
September 18
Grey Owl, Pioneering Conservationist in Canada, Born (1888)
September 19
Urmas Tartes, Estonian Nature Photographer, born (1963)
September 20
AAAS Founded (1848)
September 21
Assateague Island National Seashore Created (1965)
September 22
Peace Corps becomes law (1961)
September 23
Rose Selected as U.S. National Flower (1986)
September 24
President Kennedy Dedicated Pinchot Institute (1963)
September 25
Pope Francis Addressed the UN on the Environment (2015)
September 26
Johnny Appleseed Born (1774)
September 27
“Silent Spring” Published (1962)
September 28
National Public Lands Day
September 29
Steinhart Aquarium opens (1923)
September 30
Hoover Dam Dedicated (1935)
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