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International whaling

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Parliamentary library briefing book: Key Issues for the 43rd Parliament Page | 64 Page | 65 environment and energy

background to the whaling issue

since 1986 whaling has polarised the international community. this followed the i nternational Whaling Commission ( iWC) ‘moratorium’ on commercial whaling—a response to the global over-exploitation of many whale species. Pre-moratorium, commercial whaling occurred globally with the largest whaling grounds located in the s outhern o cean around a ntarctica. m any species came close to extinction. While some show signs of recovery, other species remain critically low in numbers. f in whales are listed by the i nternational u nion for Conservation of n ature as an endangered species. Disputed population estimates of a ntarctic minke whales are of a few hundred thousand animals. t his estimate is given as justification for currently hunting this species.

the ban on commercial whaling

the iWC moratorium was initially designed as a pause in commercial whaling. r igorous population assessments were planned, which could be used in a revised management scheme (rms) to determine sustainable catch limits for

unprotected species. a lthough the methodologies for population estimates are improving, robust numbers for most species (pre and post commercial whaling) do not exist. t he ban on whaling has continued as countries are unable to agree on both the acceptability of commercial whaling, and sustainable catch limits. i n response to this, i celand, n orway and Japan have lobbied hard to reinstate ‘sustainable’ commercial whaling, and have continued to hunt whales under special scientific permits, or objections to the i nternational Convention for the r egulation of Whaling. t he appendix i listing of the Convention on i nternational trade in e ndangered s pecies (Cites) prohibits all trade for many whale species. i celand, n orway and Japan object to the listing of these whale species, which means that they can trade in whale meat amongst themselves. r ecently, evidence has

emerged of black market trade in whale meat from Japan to s outh k orea and a merica—a breach of Cites.

norway and i celand

norway and i celand objected to the i WC moratorium, and so are not bound by the ban. they therefore continue to commercially hunt fin and common minke whales with self-allocated annual quotas. i celand also conducts scientific whaling. they both hunt in the n orth a tlantic, within their e xclusive economic Zones ( eeZ).


Japan is bound by the i WC moratorium. s ince 1987 Japan has issued permits to hunt whales for scientific purposes—a clause in the Whaling Convention permits whaling for ‘essential’ and ‘critical research’. t he scientific program includes whaling in Japanese coastal waters and the north Pacific and within the i WC southern o cean Whale s anctuary (created in 1994). t he sanctuary prohibits commercial whaling, but does not prohibit scientific whaling. u nder Japan’s a ntarctic research program, its annual quota is 850 antarctic minke whales, 50 fin and 50 humpback whales. this program has angered anti-whaling countries, who argue that ‘scientific whaling’ is in fact commercial whaling in all but name. m inke whale meat from the research activity is sold legally within Japan, as the Convention requires the meat to be used. Japan denies all accusations that the scientific whaling program is commercial whaling in disguise.

anti-whaling perspective

anti-whaling countries have consistently voted against a return to commercial whaling under the rms, due to fears that commercial whaling will not be effectively managed, will expand and lead to over-exploitation, and that sustainable catch limits

International whaling marguerite tarzia and bill mcCormick, science, technology, environment and resources section

cannot be reached when significant uncertainty remains over population numbers. s ome countries oppose the concept of whaling in any form. t his led to an impasse in 2007, which continues to date. a t the same meeting, the i WC passed a non-binding resolution asking Japan to halt scientific whaling in the s outhern o cean. the iWC scientific Committee found that the current research goals were neither critical nor requiring lethal measures, and that previous research goals had not been reached.

2010 proposals at the i WC

since 2007 the i WC has pushed for a workable compromise. During the 2010 i WC meeting a new proposal was introduced which recommended:

maintaining the moratorium but introducing • a 10-year interim period with i WC-regulated whaling and the elimination of self-allocated quotas and

capping quotas at significantly lower levels than • current catch limits.

new Zealand backed the proposal as a means to reduce the number of whales killed over the next ten years. o ther countries voted it down. a ustralia viewed it as legitimising commercial whaling, with concessions to whaling nations compromising the long-term goals to end whaling. a ustralia presented its own proposal that argued for:

an end to ‘scientific’ whaling and commercial • whaling through objection phasing out scientific whaling • in the s outhern o cean

sanctuary within five years prohibiting all whaling in • sanctuaries no new species approved for •

whaling and improved consideration of • threats and conservation status.

australia’s role

australia is one of the strongest anti-whaling countries. i t is committed to non-lethal whale research using technologies such as satellite tagging and biopsy, to demonstrate that killing whales is unnecessary.

australia initiated proceedings in 2010 in the international Court of Justice against Japan for breaching the Whaling Convention. a lleged breaches include conducting ‘scientific’ whaling with a lack of relevance to conservation and management of whale populations, and on such a scale as to constitute commercial whaling; hunting fin and humpback whales within the s outhern ocean s anctuary; and breaching the C ites Convention through illegal trade.

future outlook

While a ustralia has begun legal proceedings, the process and outcomes of this will be time-consuming, with Japan given until 2012 to lodge initial pleadings. t his will not solve the i WC impasse and an i WC resolution to this issue is necessary. m ore anti-whaling nations may begin to consider compromises to regulate and reduce whaling. in the past 20 years Japan has firmly maintained its stance on whaling. o ne possible outcome is for a ustralia to develop an acceptable proposal which permits regulated coastal whaling in the three countries’ ee Zs with a phase-out of whaling in the s outhern o cean s anctuary. t his may defuse the political situation and lead to significant reductions in whaling.

library publications and key documents

international Whaling Commission ( iWC) website, Commission information, commission/iwcmain.htm#conservation

Department of s ustainability, e nvironment, Water, Population and Communities, i nternational protection of whales,