AskDefine | Define whaling

The Collaborative Dictionary

Whala \Whala\, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Whaled; p. pr. & vb. n. Whaling.] [Cf. Wale. ] To lash with stripes; to wale; to thrash; to drub. [Prov. Eng. & Colloq. U. S.] --Halliwell. Bartlett. [1913 Webster]
Whaling \Whal"ing\, n. The hunting of whales. [1913 Webster]
Whaling \Whal"ing\, a. Pertaining to, or employed in, the pursuit of whales; as, a whaling voyage; a whaling vessel. [1913 Webster]




  1. The practice of hunting whales.
  2. The practice of spotting whales.


practice of hunting whales
practice of spotting whales

See also


  1. present participle of whale
Whaling is the hunting of whales and dates back to at least 6,000 BC. Whaling and other threats have led to at least five of the 13 great whales being listed as endangered. Commercial whaling is subject to a moratorium by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), although the moratorium is hotly contested.

History of Whaling

Whaling began in prehistoric times, and was initially confined to (near) coastal waters. Early whaling affected the development of many cultures. Although prehistoric hunting and gathering is generally considered to have low ecological impact, early whaling in the Arctic altered freshwater ecology. The development of modern whaling techniques was spurred in the 19th century by the increase in demand for whale oil, sometimes known as "train oil", and in the 20th century by a demand for whale meat. Nantucket, Massachusetts was once the whaling capital of the world.

Modern whaling

Whale oil is used little today, thus modern whaling primarily has commercial value as a food source. The primary species hunted is the minke whale, the second smallest of the baleen whales. Recent scientific surveys estimate a population of 179,000 in the central and North East Atlantic and 700,000 around Antarctica. International cooperation on whaling regulation started in 1931 and a number of multi-lateral agreements now exist in this area, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) of 1946 being the most important. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was founded by the ICRW for the purpose of giving management advice to the member nations on the basis of the work of the Scientific Committee. Countries which are not members of IWC are not bound by its regulation and conduct their own management programs.
The members of the IWC voted on 23 July 1982 to enter into a moratorium on all commercial whaling beginning in the 1985-86 season. Since 1992, the IWC Scientific Committee has requested of the IWC that it be allowed to give quota proposals for some whale stocks, but this has so far been refused by the IWC Plenary committee. Norway legitimately continues to hunt Minke Whales commercially under IWC regulations, as it has lodged an objection to the moratorium.


Canada left the IWC in 1982 and as such is not bound by the moratorium on whaling. Canadian whaling is carried out by various Inuit groups around the country in small numbers and is managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. The meat obtained from this whaling is commercially sold through shops and supermarkets. This meat is typically not available in southern metropolitan centers such as Vancouver, Toronto, or Montreal but is more available in northern communities where whale meat is a component of the traditional diet. There is considerable consternation amongst conservationists about the hunt. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society says "Canada has pursued a policy of marine mammal management which appears to be more to do with political expediency rather than conservation."


Some whaling is conducted from Grenada, Dominica and Saint Lucia. Species hunted are the short-finned pilot whale, pygmy killer whale and spinner dolphins. Throughout the Caribbean, around 400 pilot whales are caught annually and their meat sold locally. The hunting of small cetaceans is not regulated by the IWC.
In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the island of Bequia the International Whaling Commission allows natives of the island to catch up to four humpback whales per year using traditional hunting methods and equipment.

Faroe Islands

Whaling in the Faroe Islands has been practiced since at least the 10th century. It is strongly regulated by Faroese authorities and is not approved by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Around 950 long-finned pilot whales (Globicephala melaena) are caught annually, although mainly during the summer. Occasionally, other species are hunted as well, such as the northern bottlenose whale and Atlantic white-sided dolphin. The hunts, called grindadráp in Faroese, are non-commercial and are organised on a community level; anyone can participate. The hunters first surround the pilot whales with a wide semicircle of boats. The boats then drive the pilot whales slowly into a bay or to the bottom of a fjord.
Most Faroese consider the hunt an important part of their culture and history and arguments about the topic rarely fail to raise strong emotions. Animal rights groups criticize the hunt as being cruel and unnecessary. The hunters claim in return that most journalists do not exhibit sufficient knowledge of the catch methods or its economic significance.


Greenland Inuit whalers caught around 175 whales per year, making them the third largest hunt in the world after Norway and Japan, though their take is only about one quarter of either Japan's or Norway's, which take 600 or more whales each year. The IWC treats the west and east coasts of Greenland as two separate population areas and sets separate quotas for each coast. The far more densely populated west coast accounts for over 90 percent of individuals caught. In a typical year around 150 minke and 10 fin whales are taken from west coast waters and around 10 minkes are from east coast waters.


Unlike Norway, Iceland did not lodge an objection against the IWC moratorium, which came into force in 1986. Between 1986 and 1989 around 60 animals per year were taken under a scientific permit. However, under strong pressure from anti-whaling countries, viewing scientific whaling as a circumvention of the moratorium, Iceland ceased whaling altogether in 1989. Following the 1991 refusal of the IWC to accept its Scientific Committee's recommendation to allow sustainable commercial whaling, Iceland left the IWC in 1992.
Iceland rejoined the IWC in 2002 with a reservation to the moratorium. This reservation is not recognized by a number of anti-whaling countries. In 2003 Iceland resumed scientific whaling. Iceland presented a feasibility study to the 2003 IWC meeting to take 100 minke, 100 fin, and 50 sei in each of 2003 and 2004. The primary aim of the study was to deepen the understanding of fish-whale interactions (the strongest advocates for a resumed hunt are fishermen concerned that whales are taking too many fish). The hunt was supported by three-quarters of the Icelandic population. Amid concern from the IWC Scientific Committee about the value of the research and its relevance to IWC objectives, no decision on the proposal was reached. However under the terms of the convention the Icelandic government issued permits for a scientific catch. In 2003, Iceland took 36 minke whales from a quota of 38. In 2004, it took 25 whales (the full quota). In 2005, the government issued a permit for a third successive year - allowing whalers to take up to 39 whales.
Iceland resumed commercial whaling in 2006. The annual quota is set to 30 minke whales (out of an estimated 174,000 animals in the North Atlantic) and nine fin whales (out of an estimated 30,000 animals in the North Atlantic). Iceland resumed commercial whaling on 22 October 2006 after Icelandic fishermen caught a 60-ton female fin whale.


Lamalera, on the south coast of the island of Lembata, and Lamakera on neighbouring Solor are the last two remaining Indonesian whaling communities. The hunters have religious taboos that ensure that they use every part of the animal. About half of the catch is kept in the village; the rest is traded in local markets, using barter. In 1973, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sent a whaling ship and a Norwegian master whaler to modernize their hunt. This effort lasted three years, and was not successful. According to the FAO report, the Lamalerans "have evolved a method of whaling which suits their natural resources, cultural tenets and style."


When the commercial whaling moratorium was introduced by the IWC in 1982, Japan lodged an official objection, but withdrew this objection in 1987 after the United States threatened it with sanctions. Thus, Japan became bound by the moratorium, unlike Norway, Russia and Iceland. In 1987 Japan stopped commercial whaling activities in Antarctic waters, but in the same year began a scientific whaling program, JARPA.
The stated purpose of the research program is to establish the number and dynamics of whale dynamics. The Japanese government wishes to resume whaling in a sustainable manner under the oversight of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), both for the whale products and to help preserve fishing resources by culling whales. Anti-whaling organisations claim that the research program is a front for commercial whaling and that the number of whales caught are unjustified since equivalent information can be obtained by non-lethal means. The Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) which conducts the research disagrees, states that the information from tissue faeces samples is insufficient and the sample size is necessary to get a representative sample.
Japan's scientific whaling program has remained controversial at least in anti-whaling countries. Countries opposed to whaling have passed non-binding resolutions in the IWC urging Japan to stop the program. The research program is under IWC regulations. Japan claims that several whale stock are sufficiently large to sustain a controlled hunt and blames filibustering by anti whaling side for continuation of scientific whaling. Deputy whaling commissioner, Joji Morishita, told BBC News that "The reason for the moratorium [on commercial whaling] was scientific uncertainty about the number of whales. ... It was a moratorium for the sake of collecting data and that is why we started scientific whaling. We were asked to collect more data."


Norway has registered an objection to the International Whaling Commission moratorium, and is thus not bound by it. In 1993, Norway resumed a commercial catch, following a period of five years where a small catch was made under a scientific permit. The catch is made solely from the Northeast Atlantic Minke Whale population, which is estimated to consist of about 107,000 animals. Norwegian Minke Whale catches have fluctuated between 487 animals in 2000 to 592 in 2007.
Prior to the moratorium, Norway caught around 2,000 Minkes per year. The North Atlantic hunt is divided into five areas and usually lasts from early May to late August. Norway exports a limited amount of whale meat to the Faroes and Iceland. It has been attempting to export to Japan for several years, though this has been hampered by concerns in the Japanese domestic market about the effects of pollution in the blubber of the North Atlantic Minke whale.
In May 2004, the Norwegian Parliament passed a resolution to considerably increase the number of Minkes hunted each year. The Ministry of Fisheries also initiated a satellite tracking programme of various whale species to monitor migration patterns and diving behaviour. The tagging research program has been underway since 1999.
Since 2006, when the Norwegian whaling quota was increased by 30%, Norwegian whalers have been allowed to hunt a quota of 1,052 Minke whales a year. Since the 1993 hunt resumption the Norwegian quota has rarely been fully met. |- |- ! 2003/2004 | align="right" | 41 |- ! 2004/2005 | align="right" | 43 |- ! 2005/2006 | align="right" | 68 |- ! 2006/2007 | align="right" | 39 |- | colspan=2 | All catch in 2003-2007 was Bowhead whale. |}
In the United States whaling is carried out by Alaska natives from nine different communities in Alaska. The whaling program is managed by the Alaska inuit Whaling Commission which reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The hunt takes around 50 Bowhead Whales a year from a population of about 8,000 in Alaskan waters. Conservationists fear this hunt is not sustainable, though the IWC Scientific Committee, the same group that provided the above population estimate, projects a population growth of 3.2% per year. The hunt also took an average of one or two Gray Whales each year until 1996. The quota was reduced to zero in that year due to concerns about sustainability. A review set to take place in the future may result in the hunt being resumed. Bowhead whales weigh approximately 5-10 times as much as minke whales .
The Makah tribe in Washington State also reinstated whaling in 1999, despite intense protests from animal rights groups. They are currently seeking to resume whaling of the gray whale , a right granted to the Makah by the Treaty of Neah Bay.

Bycatch and illegal trade

Since the IWC moratorium, there have been several instances of illegal whale caching by IWC nations. In 1994, the IWC reported evidence from genetic testing of whale meat and blubber for sale on the open market in Japan in 1993. In addition to the legally-permitted minke whale, the analyses showed that the 10-25% tissues sample came from non minke, baleen whales species, neither of which were then allowed for take under the IWC rules. Further research in 1995 and 1996 shows significant drop of non-minke baleen whales sample to 2.5%. In a separate paper, Baker stated that "many of these animals certainly represent a bycatch (incidental entrapment in fishing gear)" and stated that DNA monitoring of whale meat is required to adequately track whale products.
It was revealed in 1994 that the Soviet Union had been systematically underreporting the number of whales it took. For example, from 1948 to 1973, the Soviet Union caught 48,477 Humpback Whales rather than the 2,710 it officially reported to the IWC. On the basis of this new information, the IWC stated that it would have to rewrite its catch figures for the last forty years. According to Ray Gambell, the Secretary of the IWC at the time, the organisation had raised its suspicions of underreporting with the former Soviet Union, but it did not take further action because it could not interfere with national sovereignty.
In 1985, an activist organization, Earthtrust, placed undercover employees on Korean fishing vessels who took photographs of both fin and right whales being hunted and processed in violation of the ban.

The arguments for and against whaling

Whales are long-lived (averaging 90-100 years for most species) and slow to mature making establishing a sustainable catch difficult for many species and stocks, especially those depleted by past industrial whaling. Whales have value both for tourism and to whalers and — as many whales are migratory — the value of an individual whale to each industry may be different across its range. International debates have focused on issues of sustainability and conservation as well as ownership and national sovereignty. Also raised in debates is cetacean intelligence and the level of suffering which the animals undergo during harvest. Since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) 1986 ban on commercial whaling, the value of lethal sampling of whales for scientific research and to establish catch quotas has also been debated. Finally, the value of whaling to fisheries as a method of controlling whales' perceived negative impact on fish stocks is another point of debate.

Conservation status

The sharpest point of debate over whaling today concerns the conservation status of hunted species. Today there is widespread agreement around the world that it is morally wrong to exterminate a species of animal. The unregulated whaling before IWC-introduced regulation and ban had depleted a number of whale populations to a significant extent and several whales species were severely endangered. Past ban on these species of whales which were implemented around 1960s has helped some of these species to recover, according to IUCN's Cetacean Specialist Group (CSG). "Several populations of southern right whales, humpbacks in many areas, grey whales in the eastern North Pacific, and Blue Whales in both the eastern North Pacific and central North Atlantic have begun to show signs of recovery."
Other species, however, in particular the Minke Whale, have never been considered endangered and still other species or certain population group within particular whales species have shown signs of recovery.
Still, those opposed to whaling argue that a return to full-scale commercial whaling will lead to economic concerns overriding those of conservation, and there is a continuing battle between each side as to how to describe the current state of each species. For instance, conservationists are pleased that the Sei Whale continues to be listed as endangered but Japan says that the species has swelled in number from 9,000 in 1978 to about 28,000 in 2002 and so its catch of 50 Sei whales per year is safe, and that the classification of endangered should be reconsidered for the North Pacific population.
Some North Atlantic states have recently argued that Fin Whales should not be listed as endangered any more and criticize the list for being inaccurate. IUCN has recorded studies showing that more than 40,000 individuals are present in the North Atlantic Ocean around Greenland, Iceland, and Norway. As there is no information about Fin Whales in areas outside of the Northern Atlantic where they still hold the status of being endangered.
Whale conservation statuses as determined by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is shown below. Note that, in the case of Blue and Gray Whales, the IUCN distinguishes the statuses of various populations. These populations, while not regarded as separate species, are considered sufficiently important with respect to conservation.. The Data Deficient category is not included.

Value for research

Since the 1986 IWC ban on whaling, Japan has conducted its whaling by issuing scientific research permits. The value of "lethal sampling" of whales is a highly contentious issue. The stated aim of the Japanese JARPA research program is to establish sustainable whaling in the Antarctic Ocean.
Lethal sampling is required to obtain age information, which can be reliably gathered by looking at the ear plug in the head of the dead animal. Japan initially argued that simple population distribution of whale species is enough to determine the level of sustainability of the hunt and argued that certain species of whale, particularly minke whales are in sufficient number to be hunted. The Anti-whaling side countered by arguing that more accurate composition of population distribution in term of age and sex distribution is needed to determine the sustainability, which ironically provided the justification for the Japanese hunt under the scientific research exemption. Within the frame of the RMP computer modelling, age data is not needed to establish a catch limit for whaling, which is the stated goal of the Japanese research. Some of the research includes a paper named Fertilizability of ovine, bovine, and minke whales spermatazoa intracytoplasmically injected into bovine oocytes. which puncture the skin of a whale and then explode inside its body. Anti-whaling groups say this method of killing is cruel, particularly if carried out by inexperienced gunners, because a whale can take several minutes or even hours to die. In March 2003, Whalewatch, an umbrella group of 140 conservation and animal welfare groups from 55 countries published a report, Troubled Waters, whose main conclusion was that whales cannot be guaranteed to be killed humanely and that all whaling should be stopped. They quoted figures that said 20% of Norwegian and 60% of Japanese-killed whales failed to die as soon as they had been harpooned. John Opdahl of the Norwegian embassy in London responded by saying that Norwegian authorities worked with the IWC to develop the most humane methods. He said that the average time taken for a whale to die after being shot was the same as or less than that of animals killed by big game hunters on safari. Whalers also say that the free-roaming lifestyle of whales followed by a quick death is less cruel than the long-term suffering of factory-farmed animals.
In response to the UK's opposition to the resumption of commercial whaling on the grounds that no humane method of catching whales exists, or "is on the horizon", the pro-whaling High North Alliance points to apparent inconsistencies in the policies of some anti-whaling nations by drawing comparisons between commercial whaling and recreational hunting. For instance, the United Kingdom allows the commercial shooting of deer without these shoots adhering to the standards of British slaughterhouses, but says that whalers must meet these standards as a pre-condition before they would support whaling. Moreover, fox hunting, in which foxes are mauled by dogs, is legal in many anti-whaling countries including Ireland, the United States, Portugal, Italy and France (although not in the United Kingdom) according to UK Government's Burns Inquiry (2000). Pro-whaling nations argue that they should only have to adhere to the lowest standards (such as for the UK Red Deer hunts), and draw the conclusion that the cruelty argument is a mere expression of cultural bigotry, similar to the Western attitude towards the eating of dog meat in several East Asian countries.

The economic argument

The whale watching industry and anti-whaling advocates argue that whaling catch "friendly" whales that are curious about boats, as these whales are the easiest to catch. This analysis claims that once the economic benefits of hotels, restaurants and other tourist amenities are considered, hunting whales is a net economic loss. This argument is particularly contentious in Iceland, as it has among the most-developed whale-watching operations in the world and the hunting of Minke Whales resumed in August 2003. Brazil, Argentina and South Africa argue that whale watching is a growing billion-dollar industry that provides more revenue and more equitable distribution of profits than commercial whaling by pelagic fleets from far-away developed countries would provide. Peru, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand also support proposals to permanently forbid whaling South of the Equator, as Indonesia is the only country in the Southern Hemisphere with a whaling industry. Anti-whaling groups claim that developing countries which support a pro-whaling stance are damaging their economies by driving away anti-whaling tourists.
Pro-whaling advocates argue that the economic analysis assumes unsustainable whaling by arguing that whaling deprives the whale watching industry of whales. Whalers counter that if whales are hunted on a sustainable basis, there is no competition between the two industries, that most whaling takes place outside of coastal areas, where whale watching takes place, and that communication between any whaling fleet and whale watching boats would ensure that whaling and whale watching occurred in different areas. Pro-whaling advocates also argue that whaling continues to provide employment in the fishery, logistic and restaurant industries and that whale blubber can be converted into valuable oleochemicals and whale carcass can be rendered into meat and bone meal. Poorer whaling nations argue that the need for resumption of whaling is pressing. Horace Walters, from the Eastern Caribbean Cetacean Commission stated, "We have islands which may want to start whaling again - it's expensive to import food from the developed world, and we believe there's a deliberate attempt to keep us away from our resources so we continue to develop those countries' economies by importing from them. "


While whales possess the largest physical brains of any animal, there is no consensus about the existence, nature and magnitude of cetacean intelligence. This lack of knowledge is partly because of the cost and difficulty of carrying out research with marine mammals. Humpback whales have been found to have spindle neurons, a type of brain cell previously considered to exist only in dolphins, humans and other primates, and some species of whale are highly social.
There is an argument that whales should not be killed because of their alleged high intelligence. The Pro-whaling justification is that pigs, which also possess high intelligence, are routinely butchered and eaten, or indeed that intelligence should not be the determining factor of whether an animal is acceptable to eat or not.

Safety of eating whale meat

Whale meat products from several species often contain pollutants such as PCBs, mercury, and dioxins. The red meat and blubber of Long-finned Pilot Whales in the Faroe islands have high toxin levels and this has a detrimental effect on those who eat the red meat and blubber. In Norway, only the red meat of Minke Whales is eaten and the levels of some toxins conform to national limits.. The consumption of whale meat in Japan has also faced scrutiny from this, especially its use in school lunches.
In general, levels of pollutants in toothed whale products are higher than levels in baleen whales, reflecting the fact that toothed whales feed at a higher trophic level than baleen whales in the food chain. Organochloride pesticides HCH and HCB are also at higher levels in toothed species than in baleen species, although Minke Whales had higher levels than most other baleen species.


Whalers say that whaling is an essential condition for the successful operation of commercial fisheries, and thus the plentiful availability of food from the sea that consumers have become accustomed to. This argument is made particularly forcefully in Atlantic fisheries, for example the cod-capelin system in the Barents Sea. A Minke Whale's annual diet consists of 10 kilograms of fish per kilogram of body mass, which puts a heavy predatory pressure on commercial species of fish. Thus, whalers say that an annual cull of whales is needed in order for adequate amounts of fish to be available for humans. Anti-whaling campaigners say that the pro-whaling argument is inconsistent: if the catch of whales is small enough not to negatively affect whale stocks, it is also too small to positively affect fish stocks. To make more fish available, they say, more whales will have to be caught, putting populations at risk. Additionally, often whale feeding grounds and commercial fisheries do not overlap.
Professor Daniel Pauly, Director of the Fisheries Center at the University of British Columbia weighed into the debate in July 2004 when he presented a paper to the 2004 meeting of the IWC in Sorrento. Pauly's primary research is the decline of fish stocks in the Atlantic, under the auspices of the Sea Around Us Project. This report was commissioned by Humane Society International, an active anti-whaling lobby. The report stated that although cetaceans and pinnipeds are estimated to eat 600 million tonnes of food per year, compared with just 150 million tonnes eaten by humans (These are Pauly's figures. Researchers at the Institute for Cetacean Research gave figures of 90 million tonnes for humans and 249-436 million tonnes for cetaceans. ), the type of much of the food that cetaceans eat (in particular, deep sea squid and krill) is not consumed by humans. Moreover, the reports says, the locations where whales and humans catch fish only overlap to a small degree. In an interview with the BBC, Pauly stated that: In the report Pauly also considers more indirect effects of whales' diet on the availability of fish for fisheries. He continues to conclude that whales are not a significant reason for diminished fish stocks.
More recent studies have also concluded that there are several factors contributing to the decline in fish stocks, such as pollution and habitat loss.
However, the dietary behaviour of whales differ among species as well as season, location and availability of prey. For example, Sperm Whales' prey primarily consists of mesopelagic squid. However, in Iceland, they are reported to consume mainly fish. In addition to krill, Minke Whales are known to eat a wide range of fish species including capelin, herring, sand lance, mackerel, gadoids, cod, saithe and haddock. Minke Whales are estimated to consume 633,000 tons of Atlantic herring per year in part of Northeast Atlantic. In the Barents Sea, it is estimated that a net economic loss of five tons of cod and herring per fishery results from every additional Minke Whale in the population due the fish consumption of the single whale.

Animal Rights

From an abolitionist animal rights perspective, environmental concerns, possible cetacean intelligence, and animal welfare concerns are irrelevant. The widely accepted notion that whales are sentient is thought to be reason enough not to harm or exploit them in any way.


General references


  • Melville, H., The Whale. London: Richard Bentley, 1851 3 vols. (viii, 312; iv, 303; iv, 328 pp.) Published October 18 1851. (later re-published in New York as Moby-Dick)
  • Muller, C. G., (2006). Echoes in the Blue. Koru Press. ISBN 9780615135946
  • Day, D., (1997). The Whale War. Sierra Club Books. ISBN 0871567784
  • Mulvaney, K. (2003). The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling. Washington D.C.: Island Press. ISBN 1559639784
  • Haug, T., Lindstrøm, U., Nilssen, K.T., Røttingen, I. And Skaug, H.J. (1996) Diet and food availability for Northeast Atlantic minke whales, Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Rep. Int. Whal. Commn.
  • Folkow, L. P., Haug, T., Nilsen, K. T., Nordøy, E. S. (1997) Estimated prey consumption of minke whales Balaenoptera acutorostrata in Northeast Atlantic waters in 1992-1995. Document ICES CM 1997/GG:01.
  • Schweder, T., Hagen, G. S. and Hatlebakk, E. (2000) Direct and indirect effects of minke whale abundance on cod and herring fisheries: A scenario experiment for the Greater Barents Sea. NAMMCO Scientific publications


News articles

  • - Report on Pauly's finding
  • - report on the Whalewatch claims that the method of killing is inhumane

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