The commercial hunting of whales nearly drove the giant mammals to extinction. By the 1960s, as hunting technologies improved and ships began to resemble floating factories, it became clear that whaling could not continue unchecked.
But despite all this, commercial whaling was never actually banned. Instead, in 1986, members of the International Whaling Committee (IWC) agreed to a whaling moratorium in order to allow whale stocks to recover. Pro-whaling nations like Japan, Iceland, and Norway expected the moratorium to be temporary until the whales stocks recovered, and a consensus on catch quotas could be established. But the temporary moratorium became a quasi-permanent ban, much to the delight of conservationists and to the dismay of whaling nations.
As a result, Japan recently announced it is leaving the international agreement and plans to resume commercial whaling. The agreement though never really stopped Japanese whaling in the first place, because it allowed the country to kill whales for scientific research. Japan has had an annual Antarctic catch quota of 333 minke whales, producing notoriously little in terms of whale science while producing lots of whale meat. As part of its withdrawal from the IWC, Japan will cease its Antarctic hunts and limit whalers to its own waters. Commercial Japanese whaling will resume in July.
Once popular in Japan, whale meat consumption has plummeted, falling 98% between 1962 and 2016. The industry employs fewer than 1,000 people and is dependent on government subsidies.
Many governments and conservationist groups condemned Japan’s withdrawal, declaring the move out of step with the international community. They argue that, rather than hunting whales, urgent action is needed to conserve marine ecosystems.
Photo, posted February 5, 2009, courtesy of Flickr.