Issues > Whaling


International Whaling Commission

Forty years ago, when whales were on the brink of extinction the IWC banned commercial whaling. The moratorium was regarded as a watershed victory for the environmental movement.

Today, despite the long-standing moratorium, four countries have used a loophole in the IWC regulations, which allow killing up to a certain quota for scientific purposes, as a special permit to continue normal whaling operations. With brazen disregard for the spirit of the law, these countries continue to sell whale meat on the open market. Rather than close the loophole, or penalize such exploitations, in 2010 the Chair of the IWC proposed re-opening commercial whaling quotas for the next ten years as a trade-off to end the so-called 'scientific whaling' operations. This was struck down, but the loophole persists.

The IWC affords no protections for 71 (out of 80 known) cetacean species, including all dolphins and porpoises. Whales and dolphins alike are vulnerable to many other threats before you factor in human predation: habitat destruction, global warming, toxic pollution, diminishing food stocks and by-catch. They are in need of our protection now more than ever.

Whaling in Japan

Partly in response to the IWC's moratorium on whaling (1986) the Japanese began hunting dolphins in record number. The practice, known as drive fisheries, kills more than 20,000 dolphins a year and was depicted in OPS's first film, The Cove.

In addition to the dolphin hunts, Japan is one of four countries taking advantage of an IWC loophole that allows whaling for scientific research. Japan kills between 650 to 1,000 whales each year and then sells the whale meat for consumption.

In Japan the culture of whaling is more myth than tradition; it was propagated only within the last fifty years as a way for a corrupt oligarchy with financial interests to justify modern large-scale commercial whaling. A modern Japanese scholar affirms that: “It is both unfair and misleading to assert that [a few] exceptional regional cases and the later transitory, short-lived post-war phenomenon form an overall historical precedent and a basis for justifying and promoting Japan’s modern-day commercial whaling.”1

Around 2,000 kilos of stock whale meat is sitting in storage at any given time in Japan – it simply doesn’t sell. Despite this, the Japan Whaling Association contends that asking Japan to abandon its whaling culture would is comparable to “Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.” The truth is, in Japan, whaling is a dying tradition rooted in nostalgia; most of the Japanese youth do not want to eat whale or dolphin meat anymore.

Learn More

Look at great graphs on Whaling in the 21st Century and Before

Read OPS's open letter to the IWC

1 Jun Morikawa. Whaling in Japan: Power, Politics and Diplomacy. Columbia University Press, 2009. New York.
2 Japan Whaling Association. Questions and Answers. 

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