Whaling FAQ


Starting in the late 19th century, a modern large-scale commercial whaling industry operated with lethal efficiency in the world ocean, killing whales at a rate that brought many species to the edge of extinction.  Between 1925 and 1975, an estimated 1.5 million whales were slaughtered by commercial whalers.

In response to plummeting whale populations and the potential economic implications of the depletion of whales as an economic resource, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 by whaling nations to regulate the hunting and trade of whales.

In 1986, the IWC voted to establish a moratorium on all commercial whaling, a moratorium that remains in effect to this day.  The moratorium, along with other protective measures, have enabled whale populations to gradually increase in many parts of the world.  


Despite the IWC's moratorium, whaling continues around the world: 

Japan exploits a loophole in the IWC ban that allows whales to be killed for “scientific purposes.” Whale meat from these so-called scientific studies is sold commercially.

Norway openly engages in commercial whaling, citing legal objections to the IWC's moratorium.

Iceland openly engages in commercial whaling, citing legal objections to the IWC's moratorium. 


The United States, Greenland, the Russian Federation, St Vincent and The Grenadines are also engaged in whaling, under the name of “aboriginal subsistence whaling” (ASW). However, in some places. ASW is not not the traditional cultural practice you might imagine and is conducted using modern technology, by people who do not require whale meat for “subsistence” – and with whale products finding their way into shops and stores. 


Unfortunately, many questions remain regarding actual pre-whaling population numbers for numerous whale species.  In addition, there are many uncertainties related to current  whale population structures, genetic diversity and species level response to increasing threats (such as climate change, marine debris, habitat loss and ocean pollution).