Michael Williamson (CLAPHAM.PHIL@SIMNH.SI.EDU)
14 Oct 96 15:26 EST

Original message: "RENEWAL OF WHALE HUNTING"
From: <<>>

Dear Dr. Clapham

On Sunday, Oct 13, the Public Broadcasting Station in Washington ran an 
informative and entertaining program produced by the Nature series on 
sperm whales.  Towards the end of the program the narrator stated that 
there is "pressure" to renew whale hunting.  Unfortunately, he did not 
elaborate.  Since I can find no obvious reference to this on the Whale 
Net page, I am wondering what was the narrator referring to, and is this 
something serious enough that the general public should be made more 
aware of.

Tom Shafer


Well I guess this depends on what you define as "pressure".  Briefly (and
it's a VERY convoluted issue), the whaling situation at present is as

There has been a moratorium on commercial whaling in place for ten years.
This was passed by the International Whaling Commission, which is the body
that regulates whaling as well as supports research on whale populations
and related issues.  Since the passage of the moratorium, whaling has
continued under a provision of the whaling convention that permits member
nations to kill whales "under special permit" for scientific research.
This was originally included in the convention because it was recognized
that there are certain biological data that can be obtained only from dead
animals, and that these data are important for calculating population
status (and therefore how many whales can be taken).  The primary country
that is "research" whaling is Japan, which annually kills several hundred
minkes whales, primarily in the Antarctic.  The meat and other products,
incidentally, are sold on the market.  Research whaling is viewed by
many scientists as a loophole, and many of us feel that the data
obtained from much of these catches is biased or otherwise of dubious
value to management for various reasons.

Of the four main whaling nations, Russia (aka the Soviet Union, at the
time) got out of the whaling game a long time ago.  While there are
occasional noises made about their resuming, it doesn't look likely
in the foreseeable future (not to mention the fact that the capital
equipment involved is very old).  Iceland quit the Intl Whaling Commiss-
ion in protest at what it feels are policies that are not reasonable
(more on this below).  Norway hasn't quit, but constantly threatens to;
more to the point, Norway announced a few years ago that the Commission
was wrong, that there were enough minke whales in the Northeast Atlantic
to hunt, and so resumed commercial whaling under a provision which allows
a country to do this under what is termed "objection".  The question of
how many whales are in this population has been the subject of heated
debate for a long time, with both sides manipulating numbers to prove
their case.  Japan has not resumed commercial catches and probably
wont; while they constantly make the same charges about the Commission,
they generally play by the rules, partly out of concern for international

The Commission was founded in the 1940's by the whaling nations to
establish quotas and conduct research, because even the whalers realized
that if they didnt attempt to implement SOME control they would be
whaling themselves out of business.  It has been a failure in
many respects, but has been better than nothing and has certaiunly
provided a forum for discussion and agreement (or disagreement).
What has happened over the last twenty years is that many non-whaling
countries have joined the Commission and have changed it from a whalers'
club into an organization in which there is strong pressure against whaling
generally (not what it was founded to do, as the whalers all say, but...)
Because the anti-whaling bloc (led by the U.S.) is so strong, there does
not seem to be much possibility of the Commission permitting a resumption
of commercial catches in the foreseeable future.  What could happen is
that Norway could quit, like Iceland, and form a new organization to
manage its own whaling free from "interference" (as they see it) by
others.  What is preventing this?  Well, largely fear of international
sanction.  Norway is very vulnerable economically to boycotts on things
like fish products (unlike Japan and its much larger economy), and such
boycotts had a perceptible effect on Iceland in the late 80's when they
were still research whaling (Iceland hasnt killed a whale since then,
by the way).

So in answer to your question: whaling DOES go on at a relatively low
level, but in my opinion it is pretty low on the list of concerns facing
great whales (entanglement in fishing gear is a mjuch greater threat
for some).  Things COULD change, but right now a full-scale resumption
of commercial whaling seems unlikely over the next few years, and if it
happened it wouldnt be involve species that are currently endangered.  To
some people that doesn't matter, but it is perhaps worth noting.

I'm sure this is much longer a response than you wanted, but as I said,
it isn't simple!

Phil Clapham