Commercial Whaling Could be Making a Comeback

As reported in The Washington Post in February the International Whaling Commission (IWC) has proposed supporting a 10 year "whaling compromise" that would legalize commercial whaling for the first time in 30 years in exchange for reducing the number of whales killed each year.

Although that reduced number has yet to be determined the aim is to reduce the number of whales killed each year to a more sustainable level. The IWC states that nearly 2000 whales die each year to unregulated whaling, and that securing a means for countries to continue the hunt under IWC governance is the most effective way to control and reduce that number. Also on the table is the establishment of a South Atlantic whale sanctuary with more legal rigidity than the so-called "gentleman's agreement" that exists today.

Critics say reopening the door to commercial whaling is a bad move regardless. After a hard fought battle to end commercial whaling, the fact it could be legal in the 21st century seems outrageous to many.

There are three nations: Japan, Norway, and Iceland who claim whaling as an important part of their culture. Japan kills hundreds of whales each year on the grounds that it is "scientific whaling" which is permissible under the IWC rules. I, for one, do not have a clear concept of what all of this "scientific whaling" is contributing to science. ESPP blogged about whaling in Japan last week when the Australian Prime Minister publicly set a November deadline for Japan to cease all whaling. Read that post here.

What does everyone think of this proposal? I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Please comment.


  1. Hi, Molly.

    My gut shouts that I should oppose whaling across the board, but my recognition of the distinctions between morality and ethics, and between preservation and conservation, mandates a nuanced response.

    In short, I'm too ignorant of the various species' numbers to weigh in with confidence. I've read studies in leading scientific journals that show that some species of whale, minke among them, that are "unharvested" for some given length of time begin to negatively impact other species populations as their numbers grow past what the ecosystem has grown accustomed to. The ecosystem has "balanced," in other words, with human whale hunting accounted for (i.e., a certain cull is factored into the ecological balance, just as a certain take by lions of wildebeest is). Of course, ecological balance is not a type of number crunching (that's for the biologists to do!), but if we elect to retain the moratorium on whaling (and, presumably, crack down on Japan's bogus "scientific whaling" rationale), we must be prepared for some ecological "collateral damage."

    While I believe that our self-conscious species should strive for our full moral potential (practicing lovingkindness, to couch it in latter-day religious terms), I sympathize with the marine biologists' and politicians' dilemma here. In essence, they must choose between science/conservation (which, in the case of several whale species, at least, makes the case for reopening a sustainable harvest) and the heart-gut-conscience/preservation (which screams against whale hunting).

    I explore this dilemma in a lengthy musing on HH, if you have plenty of down time:

  2. HH- I've just finished your post "Whiteness of Whale" thanks for the link. A very thoughtful consideration, I enjoyed reading it.

    This and all considerations of morality vs ethics, preservation vs conservation are difficult topics to be sure. As we've discussed before we both come from hunting families where these topics are experienced first hand and the gray area is far greater than the black and white. Like you say in your post "Normally I find contradiction and ambivalence agreeable, because they edge closer to objective "truth" than any ideology might." I agree.

    However it is also easy for me to flip the switch in my head back and forth between making concessions for a greater overall sustainable future and the life and experience of one individual. Human sacrifice seems more horrifying to us today than the tiger farms you reference in "Whiteness of Whale." (Selling a farm raised tiger to Chinese medicine with some of the proceeds going to support wild tiger conservation) Although a similar logic applies, sacrificing an individual to save the group. If it seems like a stretch- I've just been reading about human sacrifice, so it was in my head.

    Back to the whaling compromise. Like you, I do not have all of the information needed for confident statement of opinion on this.

    I'm not ready to side with those calling out to blindly uphold the ban on commercial whaling, which is an odd feeling for me. It feels too reactive a response, in this case I want to consider the info. Petitions I received from these groups did not give me any factual info on why the ban may be lifted and I wanted to know more. When I looked into the reasoning behind it, I was surprised by what I found. This may actually be a good thing.

    I harbor lingering doubts however. While making commercial whaling legal may turn out to be a lesser of two evils under the proposed "whaling compromise," who knows what the future holds? Legalizing whaling with these restrictions could provide a slippery slope if, goddess save us all, a Sarah Palin type was elected.

    I think a look at the issues around the reintroduction of the wolf to the western US and the delisting of the wolf from the ES act, the following back and forth of legal/illegal hunting/killing of the wolves may offer some useful comparison. It is a hot topic right now. Although the wolf situation includes years and years of bizarre prejudice, hatred, and emotion about wolves.

    Also I wonder if legalizing whaling will impact (decrease) the existing illegal killing of whales? There have been mixed results with the wolves.

    As far as an over abundance of some whale species, you mentioned Minke, perhaps nature will eventually compensate and correct this imbalance? If decreased populations of more endangered whales were allowed to recover?

  3. Sorry that I missed your reply for a time, Molly. Thank you for it.

    It seems as though we're on the same page...i.e., both in need of more solid information! I keep waiting for a good, peer-reviewed study of the impact of whale hunting on worldwide whale populations (and the ecological ripple effect) to be published. If you learn of one, please let me know.

    In any case, while I personally find the killing of wolves, whales, bears, tigers, and some other species repugnant, I feel too ignorant to be a proponent of this or that policy...even if I'd err on the side of caution.


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