Frequently Asked Questions about Whaling

What is the commercial whaling ban (moratorium)?

Once it became apparent that the numbers of whales being killed were unsustainable and jeopardized whale populations, the IWC voted to introduce a moratorium (ban) on the practice of commercial whaling in 1986.

So which countries are whaling commercially and how are they able to continue if there is a ban?

The rules of the Convention currently allows Norway to hunt under an ‘objection’ to the ban, and Japan uses a loophole which allows countries to hunt for ‘research purposes’. Iceland claims it is allowed to break the ban also because it left the IWC in 1992 but rejoined 10 years later under a self-proclaimed ‘reservation’, however, many IWC members dispute this claim and believe Iceland is still bound by the ban. Between them, these countries' whaling interests kill around 1600 whales a year.

How many whales have been killed since the moratorium came into effect?

In total, some 45,168 whales have been killed since the moratorium came into effect. This number includes whales killed under Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling which is not subject to the moratorium decision.

In commercial whaling, some 36,773 whales have been killed since the moratorium decision came into effect. Of this, Japanese, Norwegian and Icelandic whalers account for some 30,648 whales.

  • Japan has killed some 19,167 whales: 5519 "under objection" until 1987/88 when it dropped its objection, 13648* in its JARPA and JARPN scientific permit hunt 
  • Norway has killed 10,395 whales since the 1986 coastal season: mostly under objection, but also a few under scientific permit
  • Iceland has killed 1086 whales since 1986, of which more than half have been taken since it resumed whaling in 2003, also under its own scientific permits and under its so-called 'reservation
  • Some 8395 whales have been killed in ASW hunts*
  • The former Soviet Union killed 6056 whales under objection between 1985 and 1987, and the Republic of South Korea killed 69 under Article VIII scientific permit whaling in 1986

Please also note that these figures do not account for the thousands of small whales, dolphins and porpoises also killed by whalers since 1985.

 * We have been seeking to confirm the official IWC figures for the 2011 hunts and the data for the past year are based on press reports and intelligence gathering. These figures may well be subject to alteration.

What whale species are currently being hunted commercially?

Fin, minke, Bryde’s, sei, humpback and sperm whales.

Are any other whales hunted for commercial purposes?

Japan hunts smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises* also, but claims that the IWC has no authority over these hunts.

*These species include Dall’s porpoises, short-finned pilot whales, false killer whales, bottlenose, Pacific white-sided, striped, common, spotted and Risso’s dolphins.

Does the IWC allow for any other type of hunting?

Ever since the IWC began it was recognised that certain aboriginal or native people may need to hunt whales to maintain their communities, and for cultural reasons. The IWC recognises the rights of these peoples to hunt a limited number of sometimes highly endangered species such as the bowhead whales. Currently the IWC allows for the hunting of gray whales, Bowhead whales, fin, humpback and minke whales under this classification of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling.

How are whales killed, is it humane?

Ban or no ban, whaling remains inhumane and whales are unsuitable for sustainable use by humans (they are long living and slow to reproduce). There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea. The hunting process can never be an exact exercise - whales are a moving target, shot at from a moving vessel which sits on a moving sea. Grenade harpoons are often used to kill whales forcing them to be subjected to a long, slow and painful death

Is the whaling industry in decline?

The whaling industry is currently uneconomical without substantial government subsidies (the market for the meat is not big enough at the moment so much of the meat is stored).

What happens to the whale meat?

As demand for meat is falling, a lot of it is frozen and stockpiled. International trade in meat is currently illegal but only recently there have been examples of whale meat turning up in restaurants in South Korea and the US. Remember, it is not just the reduction of whale meat that is important here. It is also about stopping whale product use in cosmetics and health supplements, and whale meal feed. We already suspect that pigs may have been fed whale meal in Denmark

Is it true that whales eat so many fish that they need to be killed in order to protect the fishing industry?

No! Independent scientific data available shows clearly that whale predation (feeding on fish) does not represent a major ecological issue for commercial fisheries.

Trying to imply that fisheries are suffering because whales eat large quantities of fish is a tactic often used by those who support and seek to justify commercial whaling and distracts from the real issues relating to dwindling fish stocks - overfishing, catching of non-target species, and lack of control and enforcement.

What about the hunting of whales in the Faroe Islands?

Every year despite the advice of their own health authorities, hundreds of small whales and dolphins are hunted for meat in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark in the North Atlantic. The techniques used are intensely stressful and cruel. Find out more whaling in the Faroe Islands. This type of hunting is known as a 'Drive Hunt'. Whilst the Faroese now hunt small whales there has been a history of commercial whaling in the Faroes. Similar hunts also take place in Japan where some animals are then sold to dolphinaria.