Whaling for minke whales

The minke whale is the focal species of the current whaling debate.  By the end of the 1930's small scale whaling for minke whales was taking place in countries such as Brazil, South Africa, Norway, Canada, and Japan. In the Southern Ocean, however, because of the abundance of the larger species of whales, minke whales were mostly ignored. It was not until the 1970's when numbers of the larger species of whales became critically low did the whalers turn their attention to the smaller, more numerous minke whale. 

After 1979, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), an organisation who regulates whaling, permitted only the hunting of minke whales in factory-ship operations in Antarctica. Between the years of 1971-1981 Soviet and Japanese whalers caught 65,000 minke whales in Antarctica waters. Norwegian whalers in the Northern Atlantic were typically taking about 3,500 since the mid-fifties, voluntarily cutting back to 1,800 by the early 1980's. 

In 1986, a moratorium on whaling was implemented by the IWC. This "pause" in whaling aims to  protect endangered species of whales and also to assess how catch quotas can be calculated in the future for those species whose numbers could possibly sustain a whaling industry. Before quotas can be set, accurate population estimates of individual whale stocks and an assessment of the health of the stock in relation to other environmental threats  have to be obtained first. Due to scientific uncertainties in this information the moratorium continues to be in place nearly 20 years later. 

 In 1994 the Southern Ocean was also declared a whale sanctuary. 

Norway lodged a formal objection to this moratorium due to what they believe is their sovereign right to hunt in their waters. They continue to commercially hunt 400-600 minke whales each year, in the northeast Atlantic, the North Sea and the Barents Sea. 

Under a provision of the IWC rules, the Japanese hunt minke whales "scientifically" killing about 400 minke whales around Antarctica each year and 100 in the north Pacific. This scientific work includes genetic studies, diet analyses, measurements of age, growth rate and reproduction.  They argue that their studies have shown that minke whales reproduce faster than previously thought and that stocks are plentiful in the Antarctic. Once these studies are completed the whale meat is sold in markets in Japan and finally appears in restaurants. This is actually permitted by the  IWC. A requirement of the scientific permit is that the whale is  fully utilized with the by-product sold to markets.  All the money from selling these by-products goes back to a non-profit organization called the Institute for Cetacean Research to fund further work. 

In 2003 Iceland resumed whaling for minke whales under the IWC permit of scientific whaling taking 38 minke whales. 

Norway, Japan, Iceland and Greenland petition every year at the IWC meeting to get the moratorium  lifted. They are also asking for the relaxation of the  restriction placed on exporting whale goods imposed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). 



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