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The crew of the oceanographic research vessel "Princesse Alice," of Albert Grimaldi (later Prince Albert I of Monaco) pose while flensing a catch.
The crew of the oceanographic research vessel "Princesse Alice," of Albert Grimaldi (later Prince Albert I of Monaco) pose while flensing a catch.

Whaling refers to the practice, history and industries associated with the hunting and killing of whales. In recent history (most notably during the 19th and the earlier part of 20th centuries), total lack of conservation management led to severe over-killing of whale populations, and to endangerment of three whale species (Blue, Sei, and Fin) and 3 population segment within right and gray whale species according to IUCN.


History of whaling

It is unknown when humans began hunting whales. The earliest archaeological record of whaling is found in South Korea where carved drawings, dating back to 6,000 BC, show that Stone Age people hunted whales using boats and spears. [1] However, over time, whaling techniques have grown more technologically sophisticated. Initially, whaling was confined to (near) coastal water, such as the Basque fishery targeting the Atlantic Northern right whale around 15th to 18th century and the Atlantic Arctic fishery around and in between Spitzbergen and Greenland from around the 17th to the 20th century. However, after the emergence of modern whaling techniques, certain species of whale started to be seriously affected by whaling. These techniques were spurred in the 19th century by the increase in demand for whale oil,[2] and later in the 20th century by a demand for whale meat.

Whaling history has affected both the development of many cultures as well as their environment. [3]

Monument to the whaling industry, Bergen, Norway
Monument to the whaling industry, Bergen, Norway
Dominoes made from whale bones
Dominoes made from whale bones


Iceland has not a long tradition of subsistence whaling, although they have a long tradition of using whale products. Indeed, whaling of one form or another has been conducted from the middle ages, not by the Icelanders but by other nations such as Spain. The early reliance on whales is reflected in the Icelandic language - hvalreki is the word for both "beached whale" and "gained luck" as the Icelanders often could benefit from a stranded whale, since Iceland became populated more than eleven hundred years ago and throughout the middle ages.

Modern whaling in Iceland began in 1883 by the Norwegeans. By 1915, they had taken at least 17,000 from Icelandic waters. The Icelandic Government banned whaling in its waters to allow time for population recovery. The law was repealed in 1928.

By 1947, Icelanders had set up their own commercial whaling operation for the first time. They hunted mostly sei, fin, and minke whales. In the very early years of this operation, a few blue, sperm, and humpback whales were also hunted, but this was soon prohibited by the Icelandic Government due to decimated numbers. Between 1947 and 1985, Icelandic whalers killed around 20,000 animals in total.


Harpooning of whales by hand began in Japan in the 12th century, but it was not until the 1670s, when a new method of catching whales using nets was developed, that whaling really began to spread throughout Japan. In the 1890s Japan followed international trends, first switching to modern harpoon whaling techniques, and eventually to factory ships for mass whaling. In the postwar 1940s and 1950s, whale meat became a primary source of food and protein in Japan following the famines that came with World War II. In many whaling nations, the discovery of petroleum products that could replace the industrially important parts of whales, such as the oil, resulted in a decline in the importance and levels of whaling. This was not the case in Japan, however, where whale meat was an important food source, and where the whaling industry was a source of pride in a country that is dependent on food importation to feed its populace.

United States

The whaling history of the United States can be roughly divided into two parts: native whaling and commercial whaling (though overlaps exist). Native whaling is a tradition which reaches back to the early Inuit of North America hundreds of years before the colonization by Europeans.[1] Commercial whaling in the United States was the center of the world whaling industry during the 18th and 19th centuries and was most responsible for extinction or near-extinction of certain species of whales. New Bedford, Massachusetts and Nantucket Island were the primary whaling centers in the 1800s. In 1857, New Bedford had 329 registered whaling ships. Prior to the 1920's when commercial whaling in the United States waned, as petroleum products began replacing oil derived from whales, numerous fishing ports were actually whaling ports which built whaling ships.

The primary focus of whaling in the United States was the lamp oil made from the prodigious amount of fat contained in whales. The whaling ships carried rendering equipment which rendered fat from the carcasses as soon as it was raised onto the ships. Aside from the fat and certain bones, the majority of carcass was generally thrown back in the water, as there was no market for whale meat. Whale oil was, at that time, the highest quality oil for lamps.

The discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania in the late 19th century was the beginning of the end of commercial whaling in the United States as kerosene, distilled from crude oil, replaced whale oil in lamps. Later, electricity gradually replaced oil lamps, and by the 1920's, the demand for whale oil had disappeared entirely.

Today, the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park commemorates the heritage of both commercial and native whaling in the United States at its locations in New Bedford and Barrow, Alaska.

Modern whaling

Whale oil is little used today, thus modern whaling has primarily commercial value as a food source. The primary species hunted is the minke whale, the smallest of the baleen whales. Recent scientific surveys estimate a population of 180,000 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 program.

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. Norway legitimately continues to hunt minke whales commercially under IWC regulation, as it has lodged an objection to the moratorium.

Canadian whaling

Canada left the IWC in 1982 and as such is not bound by the morartorium 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 these whaling are commercially sold through shops and supermarket. 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."

Caribbean whaling

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 killed annually. The meat is sold locally. This hunting of small cetaceans is not regulated by the IWC.

Faroe Islands

Grindadráp is whaling in the Faroe Islands. It has been practiced since at least the 10th century. It is regulated by Faroese authorities but is not approved by the International Whaling Commission. The hunts are regulated by the division of the Faroes into 11 whaling districts, with a total of 23 authorised whaling bays. The hunts are opportunistic and there are no quotas set for the species taken. Around one thousand Long-finned Pilot Whales Globicephala melas are harvested and several hundred white-sided dolphins Lagenorhynchus acutus throughout the year. The grindadráp mainly takes place during the summer. The hunt is non-commercial, and anyone can participate. Grindadráp works by surrounding the whales with a wide semi-circle of boats and slowly driving them into a bay or fjord and then onto a beach.

Toothed whales and dolphins carry high levels of mercury, PCBs and other pollutants. The sheer volume of polluted whale and dolphin meat distributed among the 43,000 or so population of the Faroe Islands is of concern from a human health perspective.

Greenlandic whaling

Greenland Inuit whalers kill around 170 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% 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 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 fisherman 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 ("Recent Icelandic Proposal" at [4] and [5]), 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 thousand animals in the North Atlantic)[6] and nine fin whales (out of an estimated 30 thousand animals in the North Atlantic).[7][8] Iceland broke the IWC ban on commercial whaling on 22 October 2006 after Icelandic fishermen killed a sixty ton female fin whale.[2]

Indonesian whaling

Lamalera, on the south coast of the island of Lembata, and Lamakera on neighboring 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 sent a whaling ship and a Norwegian master whaler, to modernize the 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." [9]


A dish of whale meat in Japan
A dish of whale meat in Japan

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 (more disputed) Iceland. Therefore, in 1987, Japan stopped commercial whaling activities in Antarctic waters, but in the same year began a controversial scientific whaling program (JARPA - Japanese Research Program in Antarctica).

The Japanese government mainly justifies this type of whaling on the grounds that analysis of stomach contents provides insight into the dietary habits of whales and that analysis of actual tissue is the only way to ascertain the age of a whale as well as the degree of interbreeding in the population which provides vital insight into whale population distribution.

Japan's scientific whaling program has remained controversial, with anti-whaling groups maintaining that the killing of whales is unnecessary for scientific purposes and that the real reason for the scientific kills is to provide whale meat for Japanese restaurants and supermarkets. Countries opposed to whaling have raised similar concerns and passed non-binding resolutions in IWC urging Japan to stop this program. The Japanese government points out that hunting of whales for research purposes is specifically sanctioned under IWC regulations and that those regulations specifically require that whale meat be fully utilised upon the completion of research.

In 1994, Australia attempted to stop some of the Japanese whaling program by enforcing a 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) around the Australian Antarctic Territory. However, Antarctic territories are not generally recognized internationally. In particular, the Antarctic Treaty, to which Australia is a signatory, specifically states that all claims to Antarctic territories remain unresolved while the treaty is in force. (The treaty was originally devised to prevent conflict between the USSR and USA during the Cold War.) Legal advice obtained by the Australian government indicated that attempts to stop Japanese whaling in the Australian Antarctic Territory by resorting to international courts may, in fact, have led to Australia losing its claim to that territory.

In 2002, Japanese whalers took five sperm, 39 sei, 50 Bryde's and 150 Minke whales in the northern catch area and 440 minke whales in the southern catch area. The catch was carried out under the IWC's special licence for whaling research. In 2005 Japan announced that they would significantly expand their whaling. With the adoption of this plan, Japan’s lethal take will include 100 sei whales, 10 sperm whales, 50 humpback whales, 50 fin whales, and 50 Bryde’s whales, some of which are considered endangered, along with 1,155 minke whales.

The most vocal opponents of the Japanese push for a resumption of commercial whaling are Australia and the United States, whose stated purpose for opposing whaling is the need for conservation of endangered species.

Refer to International Whaling Commission for more details on controversy surrounding the Japanese whaling program.


Year Quota Catch
1994 319 280
1995 232 218
1996 425 388
1997 580 503
1998 671 625
1999 753 591
2000 655 487
2001 549 550
2002 671 634
2003 711 646
2004 670 541
2005 797 639
2006 1052 546
Norwegian Minke Whale Quotas (blue line, 1994-2006) and Catches (red line, 1946.2005) in Numbers (from official Norwegian statistics)
Norwegian Minke Whale Quotas (blue line, 1994-2006) and Catches (red line, 1946.2005) in Numbers (from official Norwegian statistics)

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 110,000 animals. Norwegian Minke whale catches have fluctuated between 503 animals in 1997 to 639 in 2005.

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 legal protests and 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 proposed a satellite tracking programme to monitor numbers of other species as possible prelude to resuming hunting of them.

Russian whaling

Russians in Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in the Russian Far East are permitted under IWC regulation to take up to 140 Gray Whales from the North-East Pacific population each year.

United States whaling

In the United States whaling is carried out by Alaska Natives from nine different communities in Alaska. The whaling programme is managed by the Alaska Eskimo 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.

The Makah tribe in Washington State also reinstated whaling in 1999, despite intense protests from animal rights groups.

Bycatch and illegal trade

Since the IWC moratorium, there have been several instances of illegal whale kills by IWC nations. In 1994, the IWC reported evidence from genetic testing[3] of whale meat and blubber for sale on the open market in Japan in 1993.[10] In addition to the legally-permitted minke whale, the analyses showed that the 10-25% tissues sample came from non mink, baleen whales species, neither of which were then allowed for take under the IWC rules. Further reaserch in 1995 and 1996 shows significant drop of non-minke baleen whales sample to 2.5%. [11] 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. [12]

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 killed 48,477 humpback whales rather than the 2,710 it officially reported to the IWC.[4] On the basis of this new information, the IWC stated that it would have to rewrite its catch figures for the last forty years.[5] 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.[6]

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

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 has depeleted the overall whale population 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." [13]

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 argued that fin whales should not be listed as endangered anymore and criticize the list for being inaccurate.[14] IUCN has recorded studies showing that more than 40,000 individuals are present in the North Atlantic Ocean around Greenland, Iceland, and Norway.[15] As there is no information about fin whales in areas outside of the Northern Atlantic they still hold the status of being endangered.

A complete list of whale conservation statuses as listed by The World Conservation Union (IUCN) is given below. Note that, in the case of the blue and gray whales, the IUCN distinguishes the statuses of various populations. These populations, while not regarded as separate species, are considered sufficiently important in term of conservation.

Extinct Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable Lower Risk
(Conservation Dependent)
Lower Risk
(Near Threatened)
Lower Risk
(Least Concern)
None [16] Gray Whale
Northwest Pacific population
(cf. Northeast Pacific population) [17]
Blue Whale

Fin Whale[19]

North Pacific Right Whale[20]

North Atlantic Right Whale[21]

Sei Whale[22]


Blue Whale
musculus subspecies - Atlantic population[24]

Humpback Whale[25]

Sperm Whale[26]

Antarctic Minke Whale

Arnoux's Beaked Whale

Baird's Beaked Whale

Blue Whale(North Pacific)[27]

Bowhead Whale[28]

Gray Whale
Northeast Pacific population [29]

Northern Bottlenose Whale

Southern Bottlenose Whale

Short-finned Pilot Whale

Southern Right Whale[30]

Minke Whale Dwarf Sperm Whale[31]

Pygmy Right Whale

Long-finned Pilot Whale

Pygmy Sperm Whale[32]

Melon-headed Whale

Additionally, the IUCN notes that the Atlantic population of gray whales was made extinct around the turn of the eighteenth century.[33]

Method of killing

Whaling harpoon
Whaling harpoon

Farming whales in captivity has never been attempted and would almost certainly be logistically impossible. Instead, whales are killed at sea often using explosive harpoons, which puncture the skin of the whale and then explode inside the body. Anti-whaling groups say this method of killing is cruel, particularly if carried out by inexperienced gunners, because the 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 killing 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.

The pro-whaling High North Alliance points to apparent inconsistencies in the policies of some anti-whaling nations. 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, Australia, Portugal, Italy and France according to UK Government's Burns Inquiry (2000). This inconsistency is used to argue that whales are the equivalents of cows in India and 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. [34]

The economic argument

The anti-whaling side of the argument often argues that the killed whales are those that are most curious about boats and thus the easiest to approach and kill. However, these individuals are also the most valuable to the whale-watching industry in coastal areas, as these "friendly" whales represent the easiest means of providing an experience to their customers. The argument over whether whales are worth more dead than alive is complex and unresolved. The whale-watching industry, and those opposed to whaling on moral grounds, claim that once all benefits to local economies such as hotels, restaurants and other tourist amenities are factored in, and the fact that a whale can only be killed once but watched many times, the economic balance weighs firmly down on the side of not hunting whales. This economic argument is a particular bone of contention in Iceland, which has amongst the most-developed whale-watching operations in the world and where hunting of minke whales began again in August 2003. The argument is less applicable to the Antarctic waters as minke whales are more abundant there, and there are far fewer whale-watching cruises. Many developing countries such as Brazil, Argentina and South Africa argue that whalewatching, a growing billion-dollar industry, provides more revenue and more equitable distribution of profits than the possible resumption of commercial whaling by pelagic fleets from far-away developed countries. These countries are defending their right to the non-lethal use of whale resources and refuse to bow down to the pressures of the whaling industry to allow the resumption of commercial whaling in their regions. Aside from Indonesia, no country in the Southern Hemisphere is currently whaling or intends to, and proposals to permanently forbid whaling South of the Equator are defended by the abovementioned developing countries plus Peru, Uruguay, Australia, and New Zealand, which strongly object to the continuation of Japanese whaling in the Antarctic.

The pro-whaling side claims that the debate is moot. They point out that anti whaling argument implies that hunt is done on unsustainable basis and the context of the debate itself is slanted toward anti-whaling rhetoric. Whalers argue that if whales are hunted on a sustainable basis, the argument that the whale-watching industry and whaling industry is in competition is invalid. Whales are the largest animals in the world, a single whale kill provides more meat in absolute terms than any other animal. Whaling and its associated activities continue to provide employment and economic stimulant for fishery, logistic, restaurant and other related industries. Whales are an excellent source of protein and animal fat. Whale blubber can be converted into valuable oleochemicals while the unused portions of the whale carcass can be rendered into meat and bone meal.

Whaling side has no objection to use of whales as tourist attraction which is another way to utilise whales as a resource. Moreover, for poorer whaling nation, the need for resumption of whaling are more 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." [35] Anti-whaling groups claim that developing countries which support pro-whaling stance may hurt their tourism industry. In reference to pro whaling Caribbean islands, Joth Singh, director of wildlife and habitat for the International Fund for Animal Welfare, stated "Individuals for whom whaling is abhorrent will think twice about going to a destination where their values are not shared." This position are echoed by governments opposed to whaling. Britain's environment minster, Ben Bradshaw stated "There can be a backlash by British consumers,". Danielle Grabiel, American observer of IWC from the Environmental Investigation Agency, also stated "Americans feel very strongly about their love for the whales, and I wouldn't be surprised if they decided not to see their money go to countries that support a return to commercial whaling," Saint Lucia's fisheries chief, Ignatius Jean, in response stated "We have heard these threats before, but we will not cower,". Still, The Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association called for "Caribbean governments to abandon pro-whaling positions and to propose a new regional whale sanctuary to promote the fast-growing pastime of whale watching." [36]


The issue of the extent of whale intelligence has also been debated, primarily by those opposed to commercial whaling. The idea is that it is unethical to eat intelligent animals, as they are closer to humankind than other animals. Some advocates believe that whales' intelligence levels are on par with those of humans, but current level of scienctic research does not substantiate such claim though some research has shown that whales are highly "social" animals. How to classify animals by intelligence is a different issue, but this issue has been overshading the question related to if it is unethical to eat intelligent animals or not.

Most of the research on cetacean intelligence has consisted of behavioral inference tests carried out on dolphins. Bottlenose dolphins, for example, are able to recognize their own images in a mirror. However, in other research, they scored lower than ferrets in a test of learning set formation. Generally, both dolphin and pig intelligence is rated as higher than that of dogs and lower than human. On the other hand, it is nearly impossible to duplicate these types of tests for whales.

Regardless, many anti-whaling campaigners claim that cetaceans are still among the most intelligent of all nonhumans, and it is therefore morally wrong to kill them for food. However, those in favor of whaling point out that pigs are also amongst the most intelligent of animals with no definitive study indicating that whales are more intelligent than pig. Then it is inconsistent to claim that pigs can be used for food, and whales not, all other considerations notwithstanding. Thus, in the view of pro-whalers, if the slaughter and consumption of another "intelligent" land animal is a non-issue, then similarly, protestations against the slaughter and consumption of whales cannot logically be ground on the basis of intelligence. Moreover, this apparent inconsistency is seen as another indication that anti whaling argument is rooted in cultural prejudice.

Further, it is philosophically questionable as to whether the intelligence of an animal is a valid measure of the ethical acceptability of killing it. A logical extension of this belief would be to suggest that within a species, individuals who are more intelligent have more right to life. This would be considered entirely immoral in a human society. According to this argument, the intelligence of an animal should not be considered when deciding whether or not it is ethical to kill it for food. It is important, however, to discriminate between 'intelligence' and other factors that may affect the ability of the animal to experience pain and suffering, such as the possession of a complex central nervous system which almost all mammals possess.

Safety of eating whale meat

Studies of several species have shown that whale meat products often contain pollutants such as PCBs, mercury, and dioxins. [37]. [38] An analysis of commercially sold whale meat in Japan found similar results. Studies on the red meat and blubber of long finned pilot whales in the Faroe islands show high toxin levels and studies have shown that this has had a detrimental effect on those who eat the red meat and blubber.  However, studies of minke whales hunted in both the North Atlantic and the southern ocean have shown that the red meat of some minke whale individuals have levels of toxicity below recommended limits, with the Antarctic minke having the lowest levels of contamination.[39]

In general, studies have shown that levels of some pollutants in toothed whale products are higher than corresponding levels in baleen whales , reflecting the fact that toothed whales feed at a higher trophic level than baleen whales in the food chain. However, other contaminants such as the organochloride pesticides HCH and HCB have comparable levels in both toothed and baleen species, including minke whales . In Norway, another whaling nation, only the red meat of minke whales is eaten and studies indicate that average toxicity levels conform to national limits for toxicity [40]( P224) [41]


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 (Sigurjonsson and Vikingsson, 1997), 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 killed, putting populations at risk. Additionally, often whale feeding grounds and commercial fisheries do not overlap.

Professor Daniel Pauly ([42]), 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 90m tonnes for humans and 249-436m tonnes for cetaceans. Reference [43]), 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 "The bottom line is that humans and marine mammals can co-exist. There's no need to wage war on them in order to have fish to catch. And there's certainly no cause to blame them for the collapse of the fisheries. It's really cynical and irresponsible for Japan to claim that the developing countries would benefit from a cull of marine mammals. It's the rich countries that are sucking the fish out of the poor countries' own seas." 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.

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 (Sigurjónsson, et al 1998). Minke whales are known to eat a wide range of fish species including krill, capeline, herring, sand lance, mackerel, gadoids, cod, saithe and haddock (Haug et al, 1996). Minke whales are estimated to consume 633,000 tons of Atlantic herring per year in part of Northeast Atlantic (Folkow et al, 1997). 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 (Schweder, et al, 2000).


  1. ^ Huntington, Henry. Alaska Eskimo Whaling. Inuit Circumpolar Conference (June 1992).
  2. ^ "Iceland 'breaks ban on whaling'", BBC News, 21 October 2006
  3. ^ Baker, Scott. Report to the International Whaling Commission (1994).
  4. ^ Natalie Angier, "DNA Tests Find Meat of Endangered Whales for Sale in Japan", New York Times, Sept. 13, 1994, at C4.
  5. ^ David Hearst, "Soviet Files Hid Systematic Slaughter of World Whale Herds", Gazette (Montreal), Feb. 12, 1994, at D9.
  6. ^ David Williams, "We Didn't Know About the Whale Slaughter", Agence Fr. Presse, Feb. 23, 1994.

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)
  • Kieran Mulvaney (2003). The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling. Island Press, Washington, D.C.
  • Haug, T., Lindstrřm, U., Nilssen, K.T., Rřttingen, I. And Skaug, H.J. 1996. Diet and food availability for northeast Atalantic minke whales, Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Rep. int. Whal. Commn
  • Folkow LP, Haug T, Nilsen KT, Nordřy ES (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


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