Whaling Today

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is a multi-nation organisation that endeavours to manage whaling. The rules that govern the IWC are known as the "Schedule". While many decisions in the IWC can be reached by a simple majority (greater than 50%) in a vote of member nations, any change to the Schedule requires a three-quarters majority (75%).
At the 34th annual meeting of the IWC in 1982 a decision was taken to introduce a moratorium on commercial whaling. Technically, this meant that catch limits for all commercial whaling would be set to zero. The moratorium was written into the Schedule as Paragraph 10(e).
In accordance with the decision, the ban on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986 (the 86/87 whaling season), and no commercial whaling quotas were allocated by the IWC that year, nor any since.
Today the IWC commercial whaling ban remains in place, and the harpoon guns should have remained silent for the past 30 years. But this is not the case.
Unfortunately, a number of whaling nations have refused to abide by the spirit of the moratorium. Built into the IWC rules are two ways for avoiding adherence to such a decision.
One is by lodging a formal "Objection" within a certain time of the decision being made. Quite simply, when an amendment such as the moratorium has been passed, any member nation that officially notifies the IWC of its official Objection is then not bound by the decision, unless it later formally withdraws its Objection.
A number of IWC member nations lodged Objections after the 1982 moratorium vote. Some withdrew their Objections in subsequent years. Those who have retained at least some of their Objections are Japan, the Russian Federation (formerly the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), and Norway. Iceland technically forfeited its Objection when it withdrew from the IWC in 1992, but has insisted that it still applies since rejoining in October 2002.
The second and most well known loophole is the abuse of "special permit whaling", commonly called scientific whaling.

The minke whale is the main target of Icelandic, Norwegian and Japanese whalers

The minke whale is the main target of
Icelandic, Norwegian and Japanese whalers

In the first few years of the moratorium, using its Objection loophole, Japan took 634 Bryde's, 615 minke and 388 sperm whales from the North Pacific and 3,882 minke whales from the Southern Ocean. Japan withdrew its Objection in terms of commercial pelagic whaling and commercial coastal whaling for minke and Bryde's whales from 1987, and commercial coastal sperm whaling from 1988. Since that time all Japan's whaling has been conducted under self-issued scientific permits.
Japan's current scientific whaling program in the western North Pacific (JARPN II) calls for 340 minke, 50 Bryde's, 100 sei and 10 sperm whales each year. Although originally designed as a pelagic (off-shore) program, many of the minke whales killed under JARPN II are now taken in Japan's coastal waters.
A similar program in the Antarctic (JARPA II), requiring 850 (+/-10%) Antarctic minke whales, 50 fin whales and 50 humpback whales, has been brought to an end following an historic decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On 31 March 2014, following a successful court case brought against Japan by Australia, the ICJ instructed that Japan's scientific whaling permits for the Antarctic must be revoked and that no further such permits may be issued.

As a result, two Japanese vesselc were sent to the Antarctic for the 2014/15 summer to conduct non-lethal research, but Japan also announced its intention to resume scientific whaling there in 2015/16.

Under its New Scientific Whale Research Program in the Antarctic Ocean, or NEWREP-A, the Japanese whaling fleet set sail for the Southern Ocean in December 2015, with government permits to kill, butcher and package for sale 333 minke whales. The hunt was successful and the Japanese fleet returned to the Southern Ocean for the 2016/17 summer to take another 333 minkes 
[See Japan in the menu bar to the left for further details.]
By issuing itself these scientific permits, Japan has killed 496 Bryde's, 2,064 minke, 48 sperm and 693 sei whales in the North Pacific and 17 fin and 10,072 minke whales in the Southern Ocean.

   Thanks to the ICJ ruling, the Japanese Government has removed endangered fin whales from its new Antarctic "scientific research" whaling - for now.

USSR/Russian Federation
The USSR took 6,056 minke whales in the Southern Ocean in the first two years of the moratorium, but then stopped. It has conducted no commercial whaling since 1987 and has not resorted to scientific whaling. All the same, the Russian Federation has not officially withdrawn its Objection. 
Norway conducted commercial whaling from 1986 to 1987, taking 752 minke whales. From 1988 it switched to scientific whaling, which it continued until 1994, taking a further 289 minkes. In 1993, with its moratorium Objection still in force, Norway resumed commercial whaling and has since taken an additional 10,412 minkes (up to the end of 2013). All Norway's whaling has been conducted in the North Atlantic, in or near its coastal waters. Norway intends to take 1,286 minkes in 2015. [See Norway in the menu bar to the left for further details.]
Between 1986 and 1989 Iceland took 292 fin and 70 sei whales under a self-issued scientific permit. The following year Iceland stormed out of the IWC and announced it would withdraw its membership in protest over continued IWC support for the moratorium and in June 1992 Iceland ceased to be an IWC member.

In 2001, the Government of Iceland applied to rejoin the IWC. However, it wanted to be re-admitted with a special "reservation" - that its Objection would be reinstated also. That is, Iceland did not want to be bound by the moratorium that was in place. Many members, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, Portugal, San Marino, Spain, Sweden, UK and the USA, opposed this special dispensation, claiming that any nation that joins the IWC must be bound by all prevailing conditions, including the moratorium, even if that nation is a past-member. This issue has never been satisfactorily resolved.

Since officially rejoining the IWC in October 2002, Iceland has taken 200 minke whales under scientific permit and another 414 fin and 331 minke whales in commercial whaling operations. Iceland intends to take up to 191 minke whales in 2018.

The Icelandic Government issues permits for its whaling fleets to kill a total of 229 minke and around 200 fin whales each season, although some Members of Parliament are now calling for the quotas to be recuced or even discontinued, in favour of building up Iceland's whale watching industry.

Early in 2016 Iceland's largest whaling company, Hvalur HF, announced that it would not go whaling that season because of difficulties selling its  fin whale meat to Japan. It recommenced in 2018. 
[See Iceland in the menu bar to the left for further details.]

In summary
The moratorium on commercial whaling came into force in 1986. Since then a total of 39,523 whales have been killed – 23,484 through the "Objection" loophole and 16,039 in the guise of science (catches reported to June 2013). All of these whales have made their way to the domestic whale meat market. Japan, Norway and Iceland have all announced their intentions to continue whaling.

A further 9,783 whales 
 including humpback, bowhead, gray, fin, sei and minke whales  have been killed under Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quotas sanctioned by the IWC.


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