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Over recent decades, the IWC has taken some encouraging steps in changing its emphasis towards conserving and studying whales, most recently in 2003 with the establishment of a Conservation Committee.

Over 30,000 whales have been killed since the moratorium

The whaling nations of Japan, Norway and Iceland retain politically influential whaling industries that wish to carry on whaling on as large a scale as possible. All three countries are exploiting loopholes in the Whaling Convention in order to kill whales in spite of the IWC's moratorium on whaling.

Politics, not science

Norway hunts whales under its objection to the moratorium, and Japan has been whaling under the guise of "scientific research" (see WWF document "Irresponsible Science, Irresponsible Whaling"). Most recently, Iceland joined the IWC with a formal objection to the moratorium in 2002 and, although claiming they would not undertake commercial whaling before 2006, immediately began a “scientific whaling” program. It added to its scientific quota by commencing commercial whaling in 2006, aiming to take 30 minke whales and 9 fin whales each year. However, in 2009, Iceland dramatically increased its whaling quotas to 100 minke whales and 150 fins. Fin whales are an endangered species, and Iceland's quota of 150 fin whales is more than three times higher than what the IWC Scientific Committee has calculated as being sustainable.

This irresponsible approach led to excessive catches and the collapse of many whale stocks.

For the government of Japan today, not much has changed. Japan avoids the moratorium on whaling by hunting whales in both the Antarctic and the North Pacific, claiming that these whales must be killed to answer critical management questions. Yet the science being practised by Japan's Institute of Cetacean Research - established in 1987 when the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling threatened to end Japan's Antarctic whaling programme - is increasingly being recognised as poor quality, misleading or simply spurious.

In many cases, Japan routinely ignores credible scientific data that do not support its whaling policies, or conducts the whaling in the absence of critical management information. In short, Japan is still using the scientific practices of 1946, when the Convention on Whaling was drafted, while the rest of the scientific world has moved into the 21st Century.

Overall, the scientific research conducted by Japan is nothing more than a plan designed to keep the whaling fleet in business, and the need to use whales as the scapegoat for over-fishing by humans.

Until the Government of Japan starts conducting objective science, and stops ignoring the findings of other researchers, it will have no credibility in its campaign to resume commercial whaling.

No absolute majority

The current membership of the IWC is approximately evenly divided between whaling and non-whaling nations, resulting in a political deadlock which makes it impossible to secure the ¾ majority of votes needed to make major changes. All in all, whaling is taking place and increasing without any international control.

While the debate has raged over how best to manage commercial whaling, emerging threats to the future of all cetacean populations have begun to be addressed by the IWC, both within its Commission and its Scientific Committee.

Among the important conservation issues under consideration have been: conservation of “small” cetaceans; incidental catches in fishing gear (bycatch); climate change; whale watching; protection of highly endangered species and populations; whales and their environment (including toxic chemicals and other marine pollution); ecosystem management concerns; sanctuaries; enforcement and compliance; management of "scientific whaling"; and collaboration with other organizations.

These issues, of critical importance to the future of all cetaceans, now constitute a broad and growing, although controversial, conservation agenda within the IWC.

The IWC in the 21st century

The IWC's mandate requires first and foremost that it prevent the return of uncontrolled large-scale commercial whaling. The 1946 ICRW, however, was negotiated at a time before the broad range of threats to cetaceans were understood or even recognised to exist - tied not only to an era which had little understanding of the complex web of marine issues facing all cetaceans, but also to a very different political era than the one in which it exists today.

Wide-ranging threats

In the more than 50 years since the Convention text was adopted, it has become impossible to separate the threats presented by commercial whaling from those of marine pollution, commercial by-catch, or over-fishing. It is far preferable, and of greater potential conservation to cetaceans, to now address all of the threats to cetacean populations in a broad, multilateral context, as the IWC has begun to do.

The ICRW is currently the only international instrument available to formally address all cetaceans and all threats to their continued existence. WWF believes the IWC must continue to expand its scope to address the other human activities which threaten cetaceans and focus action on ensuring the survival of the most threatened species.


Humpack whales 
© Fundación Yubarta
© Fundación Yubarta