What is the IWC, or International Whaling Commission?

Japanese whaling vessel
Japanese whaling vessel
The IWC is the body that regulates whaling and ultimately decides what happens to whales.

What does the International Whaling Commission do?

The IWC is the decision making body of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The various governments that are members of the IWC make their decisions through its various meetings and committees, using the IWC secretariat to help manage their discussions and decision making.

The IWC website states that, "The main duty of the IWC is to keep under review and revise as necessary the measures laid down in the Schedule to the Convention which govern the conduct of whaling throughout the world."

The formal decisions of the IWC are contained within the Schedule to the ICRW

How does WDC work within the IWC?

WDC attends the meeting to provide scientific, legal and conservation expertise to government delegates. We work with member nations to equip them with the knowledge and evidence they need to make informed decisions.

Read more about the vital role we play in this feature from our supporter magazine, Whale & Dolphin.

66th Meeting of the IWC - 2016

Find out more information on the 2016 meeting of the IWC in Portoroz, Slovenia.

Who make up the membership of the IWC?

The full list of member countries can be found on the IWC website.

The IWC does allow observers to attend most of its meetings. These observers can be made up of countries that are not members of the IWC, the press and non-governmental organisations and charities such as WDC.

When does the Commission meet?

Until 2012, the full IWC met annually, but since 2012 it meets every two years. Its subcommittees and working groups can meet more regularly as required.

How does the Commission work?

The Commission has four main committees - Scientific, Technical, Finance and Administration and its most recent committee, the Conservation Committee which was created in 2004.

There are also Commission subcommittees that deal with aboriginal subsistence whaling, infractions (breaking of regulations) and other ad hoc working groups to deal with a wide range of issues.

What is the Scientific Committee?

The Scientific Committee comprises around 200 whale biologists and scientists many of whom are nominated by member governments. For example, the pro-whaling countries tend to send large delegations of government sponsored scientists to put forward their government's position.

In recent years the Scientific Committee has invited other scientists to supplement its expertise in various areas. The work of the Scientific Committee is largely determined by the scientific needs of the Commission. The pro-whaling interests regularly attempt to narrow this down to only delivering recommendations on whaling quotas, but the wider pro-conservation membership often seeks to ensure that the Scientific Committee is looking at issues that affect the conservation and protection of whales and dolphins.

For example, whilst Iceland, Japan, Norway and their allies claim that the IWC has no competency to discuss small whales and dolphins, the IWC Scientific Committee has been able to do some remarkably useful work in this area.

I keep hearing that the IWC is dysfunctional?

The IWC is not dysfunctional. The only people who want you to believe its dysfunctional are the pro-whaling interests who are unhappy with the moratorium on commercial whaling.

Despite the best efforts of the pro-whalers, the IWC has still been able to consider conservation issues in the last few years, including the impacts of marine debris and climate change on whales and dolphins.

The real threat to the effectiveness of the IWC comes from stunts by the pro-whaling nations. In 2011, Japan led its allies out of the meeting and claimed that the meeting could no longer proceed because not enough members were present. The walkout was in order to block a vote on a whaling sanctuary in the southern Atlantic proposed by Brasil and Argentina with the full support of other Latin American countries. In the last few years the Latin American countries have become much more influential in taking forward conservation issues for whales.

Japan was willing to undermine the democracy of the IWC to ensure it got its way.

How do I get in touch with the IWC?

International Whaling Commission
The Red House
135 Station Road
CB24 9NP

Telephone: (+44)(0)1223 233971
Fax: (+44)(0)1223 232876
Email: secretariat@iwcoffice.org
Web site: http://www.iwcoffice.org