The big news of the day in the topic of whales and whaling is the news that Japan has stated its intention to resume commercial whaling in July 2019. This will coincide with them stepping down as a member nation of the International Whaling Commission (IWC). None of the current members of the IWC do whaling on a commercial basis. So, Japan will join Iceland and Norway as commercial whaling nations in defiance of the voluntary moratorium that was voted on in 1983 and commenced with the 1986 whaling season.
Japan has been conducting Special Permit (Scientific) whaling, via Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling, since 1987. They are the only country to do so since 2008. Countries that wish to do this type of whaling apply to their own governments, not the IWC, for their scientific permits. Because the Japanese government subsidizes this whaling, these permits were always going to be approved. One of the requirements of this article in the ICRW, is that the animal cannot simply be discarded. So, the meat of the animal is then available for distribution and consumption.
At no point did Japan publish any peer-reviewed scientific papers as a result of the data they collected. So, in reality, this change of status from scientific to commercial removes any pretense as to the purpose of their whale hunting. What will be different is that they will now remain in their own territorial waters and Exclusive Economic Zone, rather than hunt in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, where commercial whaling is banned.
Japan, Iceland and Norway all maintain that sustainable whaling is possible for select species. Members of the IWC disagree. They signed a non-binding resolution at the 2018 annual symposium, in Brazil, stating that whaling was no longer economically viable or necessary for scientific research.
Commercial whaling ended in the United States in 1972 when the Marine Mammal Protection Act was passed. Commercial whaling in New Bedford had ended in 1925 when the two-masted schooner, John R. Manta, returned to port after a three-and-a-half-month voyage to the Hatteras Grounds. The year before, in a much better known story, the Wanderer, a three-masted bark, broke up in a storm on Sow and Pigs Reef off of Cuttyhunk Island, and thus she and her crew did not go a-whaling.
Because this story is such big news, you have no shortage of media outlets you can access to get more details. I encourage you to view more than one. Some stories have some footage that come with a warning before you watch it.
Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus). Illustration by Uko Gorter.
This morning we posted a Guardian (UK) story on our Facebook page about Iceland’s lone whaling company combining oil extracted from endangered fin whales with marine oil to power their fleet. Another publication, Wildlife Extra News has picked up on this story as well.
Hvalur is the only whaling company in Iceland. Their CEO, Kristjan Loftsson, is a veteran of the whaling industry, having started as an observer on his father’s whale ships in 1956. In a June 2010 story, published by Google News and AFP (and posted on our Bulletin Board that month), he made his attitude towards whales quite clear while in attendance at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco. “Whales are just another fish for me, an abundant marine resource, nothing else…If they are so intelligent why don’t they stay outside of Iceland’s territorial waters?”
Iceland has increased their quota this year for fin whales, the second largest species of whale and historically the most hunted of the great whales. In compiling the data from the IWC database, and recent reports by researcher Yulia Ivashchenko of corrected Soviet whaling harvest totals, I estimate that approximately 900,000 fin whales were killed globally via factory whaling methods between 1900-2000. Unlike Japan, which does its harvesting under the heading of Scientific Whaling, Iceland makes no such claims. Their hunt is strictly commercial, with their sales going mainly to Japan and to tourists who visit Iceland. Iceland and Norway both hunt commercially in defiance of the voluntary moratorium agreed to by IWC members in 1983 and enacted in full in 1986.
Mr. Loftsson’s claim that this new fuel mix should be considered a green biofuel is ludicrous. Utilizing an endangered species to cut down on use of fossil fuels to then hunt more of that same species serves no benefit to the marine environment. Chris Butler-Stroud, the Executive Director of Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC), summarized the duplicitous nature of this strategy, “This is a completely absurd, perverse and unethical move by an industry that is already steeped in the blood of whales, and which is now prepared to use the remains of dead whales to keep its own vessels afloat.”
The last two days of Google Alerts for ‘Whales’ have seen almost 100% of the postings dedicated to the news that the government of South Korea has proposed starting a scientific whaling hunt, much like Japan has been doing since the late 1980s. All major outlets, including Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Reuters, have picked up on this story. It has met with rapid and vociferous opposition.
The argument used by the proponents of this plan is that their fishermen are complaining that there are too many whales eating too many fish. This pseudo-scientific thought holds no water, because there were plenty of fish and whales and they all lived in fine ecological balance until humans started harvesting both. We’ve stopped overharvesting whales, but haven’t stopped catching too many fish.
The other issue with this concept is that any whales caught for scientific purposes can’t simply be discarded once the research is finished. Article VIII, Paragraph 2, of the International Whaling Commission Scientific Permit Whaling states: Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted. Typically, this processing means selling the animals as steaks, etc in stores and restaurants. In other words, South Korea could get into the business of selling whale meat if this proposal is accepted.
The IWC meetings in Panama City will conclude today. The U.S. government has stated its opposition to the proposal, as have Australia, New Zealand and Panama. The Scientific Committee will decide if the proposal merits acceptance. Anonymous sources in South Korea have stated that the country will withdraw its plan if it is rejected by the committee.
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Later this month, a new proposal to suspend the moratorium on commercial whaling will be presented at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission. This proposal has created a great deal of controversy within the IWC and around the globe.
In light of this proposal, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s UK office has created a presentation using Shockwave software the tallies the commercial, scientific and subsistence harvests of whales in recent decades.
Whaling in the 21st Century and Before
This data, combined with the comprehensive Whaling Zones map in our new exhibit, The Hunt for Knowledge, gives a complete picture of who, what, where, why and how many.
For some, this is a complex issue, requiring a gathering of facts from all points of view. For others, there’s no need for discussion; their minds are made up. Whatever your point of view is, it’s good to be armed with the details.