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?

Tens of thousands of whales have been killed.  As well as those killed in aborginal subsistance hunts, Japan, Norway and Iceland continue to hunt whales for commercial purposes (Japan confirmed on December 26th 2018 that it would resume commercial hunting in 2019).

A full list of the numbers hunted in recent years by each country can be found in our "whaling in numbers" section.

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.