Wildlife Climatology The Expedition Peoples Of The North The Global Issues The "Making Of"



The Expedition

Peoples Of The North

The Global Issues

The "Making Of"

Will Commercial Whaling Resume Again?

Jean Lemireby Jean Lemire, Expedition leader

Over the last twenty years, whales have been protected by an international moratorium, which prohibits their capture and mass killing. Certain
countries such as Japan, Norway and Iceland have violated this controversial moratorium. These countries often described their hunt as “scientific” in
order to justify their actions on the field and to improve their image on the international scene. It is doubtful that this “scientific” approach led to merely scientific research since transformed products of whaling are still available as fine delicacies on the market, particularly for the
enjoyment of wealthy Japanese.

Blue whaleIn 1982, when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) laid down the anti-whaling moratorium, its objective was to contribute to the census of different whale populations in order to update and revise the laws authorizing whale capture. Of course, this was a huge challenge as it is not a simple task to accurately survey populations of migratory animals that can travel all over the world’s oceans.

Nevertheless, these observations have shown that several whale species remain highly endangered despite the imposed and generally respected respite on hunting. To this day, the majestic Blue Whale remains a species threatened by extinction. Some scientists believed that the Northern Right Whale, with its residual 320 individuals, and the Bowhead whale, of which less than 500 individuals remain in the Eastern Arctic region, may not possess the necessary population density to ensure an effective and
sustainable growth of the species. It is thus essential that unyielding protective measures be proposed in order to allow maximum chance of survival of our friendly giants. (Note: The bowhead population for the western arctic is around 10 000 individuals, with a 3% increase per year. That is why Inupiat from Point Barrow can practice their traditional hunting).

Even though many other species of whales are still endangered and have yet to make a come back from commercial whaling, some species such as the Humpback and Gray whales have shown interesting population growth since the compulsory moratorium. When countries will agree to lift the present
moratorium, the new regulations outlining hunting quotas will hopefully take into account the updated population numbers. With this in mind, it is hoped that hunting will resume only on whale species whose estimated figures exceed 54% of their original population numbers, calculated from hunting records dating back to 1946.

Bowhead whaleBy applying these regulations on a global scale, only the Minke whale, of which several thousands individuals are found worldwide, could be eligible to commercial whaling…as least for now.

The scientific community fears that the agreement may unjustly give the opportunity to some pro-whaling countries to actively resume hunting on all whales regardless of species.

Scientifically speaking, legal hunting of the Minke whale should be permitted to resume. This is at least the belief that is shared between the Japanese, Norwegians and Icelanders who have constantly defied the
moratorium. To enhance their voting power, these countries recruit - not without important financial incentives - small Caribbean states members of the International Whaling Commission. In revenge, the European Union, the USA and Latin American countries pool their efforts by inviting new countries that are opposed to commercial whaling to join the IWC.

Well above this eternal diplomatic dispute, a true war over financial implications and scientific arguments fuels the debate. The Japanese maintain that by competing aggressively with available food supply, the now abundant Minke whale population prevents the growth of the other whales species… argument obviously refuted by opposing scientists.

This situation seems to be heading straight to a dead end and communication between the two conflicting groups is clearly deteriorating. By permitting such cleavage to exist within the Commission, we are risking to halt all ongoing progress made so far by the working group, thereby compromising its credibility.

Some reckon that by allowing the above scenario to persist, certain countries will definitively withdraw from the IWC, as did Iceland some time ago. Without the international community’s involvement to protect whales, or its support to control whaling, we may well start to ponder what will become of those marine mammals.

One thing is clear: we have never been this close to officially lift the fragile moratorium and to resume commercial hunting activities. Our whales’ faith now relies on good will, a few strategic votes, much political lobbying and a little bit of money…

Subsistence whaling has always played an important role in the heart of ancestral traditions amongst Inuit populations…