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More thoughts on Whaling and the IWC

hope's picture

History of the IWC

  • 1770s-1800s-large-scale whaling for oil.
  • 1849-invention of oil well
  • early 1900s-technology improves (power boats, harpoon guns, factory ships)
  • 1925-League of Nations recognized the need for regulation of whaling due to over-exploitation.
  • 1930-Bureau of International Whaling Statistics set up to keep track of catches
  • 1946-International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling
  • 1949-International Whaling Commission established
  • 1961-66,000 whales killed (highest number recorded)
  • 1972-the UN Conference on the Human Environment proposed a ten-year moratorium on commercial whaling
  • 1982-IWC agrees to moratorium on commercial whaling
  • 1986-moratorium enacted

In Japan:
Documentation of nobility eating whale meat 1000 years ago.
Whaling villages sometimes built shrines to the whales, worshiped them.
After WWII Japan was encouraged by the US to resume whaling to feed all the hungry people. Whale meat became a staple of the diet.
Whaling today isn't nearly as big of a problem as it was. So, what should the role of the IWC be today?

  • conservation in general (bycatch, shipstrikes, environment?)
  • dolphins?
  • just keep regulating?

Class session summary (riki)
Hope began by informing us of what has happened in the past when there was no regulation and by going over the history of whaling and regulation. When whaling was not regulated, the whale supply was exhausted. Whalers believed that the lack of whales meant that the whales were frequently relocating and failed to realize that they were really just hunting the whales to extinction. Whales were originally hunted for oil, so one would expect a reduction in whaling after the invention of the oil well, but with new whaling technology, more and more whales were caught and killed. Japan became big whalers after WWII, with the support of the US, due to the new technology and widespread hunger. However, whaling regulation groups also started right after WWII. Concerns about whales then was husbandry, so what are the contemporary concerns about whales? What are the different motivations for whaling for different cultures at different times? There have been several waves of concern about whales.
We also discussed Japan’s scientific research. It is vague. We still don’t understand their scientific reasoning behind killing whales, other than for anatomical studies.
Then we moved on to discussing what the role of the IWC should be today. Conservation efforts do not seem to be productive. Japan alone could not have driven whales extinct. Is the IWC irrelevant? Is Japanese whaling relevant to whaling history?


smaley's picture

 One thing that I've been

 One thing that I've been thinking a lot about since our discussion is the fact that the IWC doesn't seem to have made much of a difference when it comes to the number of whales being killed.  This makes me question the importance of conservation at all. We kept talking about how individual countries can't really be trusted to show restraint when whaling, which is one of the reasons that the IWC was created in the first place.  But how do we really know?  Now, I'm not saying that all conservation efforts are useless.  Instead, I think the IWC really needs to focus less on regulating whaling, and focus more on determining how many whales there actually are.  I feel that without a reasonably accurate population estimate, both currently and historically, there is no way to know whether or not conservation is needed.    

Paul Grobstein's picture

whaliing: policy and practice at the biology/culture interface

I was impressed how the topic got more rich and multi-faceted as we added in a number of the historical specifics, eg the relation of whaling to oil and food availability, and to specific cultural practices.  Maybe there's an interesting general lesson about the biological/culture interface here? Rather than focusing on generalities that would similarly affect lots of specifics, the effort ought to be to clarify all the different specifics involved in particular "controversies", look for ways to deal with each in its own terms, and let generalities emerge or not emerge from that? 

Crystal Leonard's picture

Japanese whaling industry

I think it is interesting that the US encouraged Japan to increase whaling and use the meat as a protein source after WWII but now condemns Japan for continuing to eat whale meat. It's a very hypocritical stance to take. Do the Japanese hunt enough whales for meat that it actually threatens whale populations? If so, then Japanese whaling should be regulated to prevent the extinction of these whale species. However, because the IWC has no real authority, I think it would be more effective if the regulation was coming from within the Japanese government. Whether because you believe whales have culture or that whales are ecologically important, the main goal is to prevent whale extinction right? If the Japanese government is made to realize that without regulation their whaling industry is not sustainable, they may be willing to internally regulate.

lbonnell's picture

Whale Conservation

 I think one thing I would be interested in learning more about is how the whale conservation movement began. A lot of animals are intelligent and have special relationships with humans, so I wonder why whales in particular have such a strong conservation movement. I guess the conservation movement may have arisen out of whaling and the uniqueness of whales, but I wonder if there is something else? We talked about how groups of people like Eskimos and the Japanese who hunted whales historically also highly respected them. Maybe there is something special about whales that makes many cultures intrinsically show respect for them. 

Colette's picture

  Attempts at conserving

  Attempts at conserving whales has had a thin history of success. For instance as Prof. Grobstein pointed out, it seems odd that when other sources of oil became available, the whaling industry still maintained a peculiar high number of whales being killed off. This may partly be due to the delay in changing over from one whale oil to other oils. Despite what happened, we cannot change the past. We can advocate for a better future for whales, however, by continuing conservation efforts. If the IWC continues, perhaps it could advocate for better “scientific whaling,” and enforce the black market laws on whale meat In Japan. If we were to get rid of the IWC would the industry actually be affected? It seems that in spite of the IWC’s laxness, Whales are still able to maintain a stable number.


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