While whales are revealing their intelligence and amazing communication abilities to scientists in one part of the world, they are being ruthlessly slaughtered in another. Once whales swam in enormous numbers in all oceans, communicating in complex sounds that resonate through the water. The beautiful and eerie songs of the Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) resound for a thousand miles.* Each complex song lasts as long as half an hour, and different populations of these whales improvise their own dialects, evidence of an extremely evolved communication system. We are unable to decipher this language, and our knowledge of whales is extremely primitive. Hydrophones lowered into the icy waters near Bowhead Whales have picked up strange calls ranging from groans to trumpet-like blasts to loud squeaks.* Through limited contacts, whales have shown intelligence and sensitivity. They soon become tame and friendly when approached by whale watchers. In recent years, Pacific Humpback Whales have approached boats of whale watchers in the manner of the friendly Gray Whales (Eschrictius robustus), which swim up to tourists in Baja California, Mexico. The Humpbacks swim close to these boats and turn on their sides, flapping their huge white flippers on the water surface.
*These sounds can be heard in “Gentle Giants of the Pacific: Humpback Whales” (Sierra Club Films) and “The Bowhead Whale” (Wildlife in Production Films and Discovery Productions, 1998), which give an intimate glimpse into the lives of these whales and their feeding, habitat and the animals that share their world.

The devotion of whales to one another has been observed for centuries by whalers whose boats were attacked by distraught and angry whales after a member of the pod was harpooned. Carl Sagan, in Cosmos (1980), considered whaling to be monstrous when, instead, we should be seeking to communicate with these "intelligent masters of the deep." Whaling destroyed millions of these marine giants, pushing them close to extinction. A half century of protection has not resulted in their recovery. Many are still killed illegally. Whaling nations, many of them among the wealthiest in the world, continue to kill smaller whales openly, often in defiance of international agreements.

Early Whaling and its Effects

The decimation of the great whales has been going on for centuries, one species after another hunted to commercial extinction or to levels so low that it is no longer profitable to hunt them. Atlantic Gray Whales were hunted to actual extinction as described earlier in this book, and populations of these whales that once inhabited the waters off Korea and the western Pacific were hunted until 1966, when they disappeared (Reeves et al. 1992). In the early 1990s a Gray Whale was seen off the coast of Japan for the first time in decades, giving hope that the species might repopulate this area.

In the 8th century, the Basques of northern Spain hunted the Northern Right Whale (Eubalaena glacialis) for meat and whalebone in the Bay of Biscay, where they came to winter and have their calves. These whales once swam along the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America in annual migrations, spending the summers in northern waters and winters in the warm waters off Florida and Spain. They were so named by English whalers because they were "right" for their purposes: they were easy to kill; they yielded large quantities of oil and whalebone, which was used for women's corsets; and they floated when dead (Allen 1942). The slow-moving Right Whales feed on plankton and krill, which they strain through baleen plates in their huge mouths.

By 1800, almost no eastern Atlantic Right Whales survived, and whalers sailed to American waters, where New England colonists slaughtered the western population. Where once thousands of these whales swam along coasts of eastern North America each fall, few remained after centuries of whaling (Allen 1942). Killing of this beleaguered species continued from whaling stations off Ireland and the Hebrides in spite of catches of only 10 to 18 whales a year. These whalers could find no more Right Whales by about 1910. Fortunately, a few remained elsewhere, but the species is the most endangered of all whales. Still extinct in the eastern Atlantic, they number only about 350 animals in the western Atlantic. In the eastern North Pacific, Right Whales once ranged from central Baja California, Mexico, to the Gulf of Alaska and into the Bering Sea; along the Asian coast, they were seen from the Bonin Islands north to the Kamchatka Peninsula of Russia (Leatherwood and Reeves 1983). Today, the North Pacific population is estimated by some experts at fewer than 300, having failed to recover from early whaling (Harrison and Bryden 1988). This species is on the edge of extinction.

The remnant eastern Atlantic population no longer swims close to shorelines, which are now cluttered with vacation homes, marinas and cities. Their ancestral feeding grounds are polluted, and constant boat traffic presents the threat of collisions. Swimming far offshore, they take months to reach their wintering grounds. A dead Right Whale calf was discovered in salt marshes in Georgia about a decade ago, probably the victim of a boat collision. This launched a research program to locate wintering whales by air and to tag and identify them as individuals. Dredging boats along the Georgia coast are notified when Right Whales are spotted nearby, and they must stop until the whales swim away. Further north, another team monitors the whales off New England in the summer with spotter aircraft, notifying ship pilots of their presence (McFarling 1994). Most collisions have taken place off Boston, where a stream of liners and giant cargo ships arrive from Europe. Off Florida there have been fewer incidents, as the Coast Guard keeps a very careful watch by air and immediately radios any ship in the area of the whales’ location.

Genetic analysis of the DNA of Northern Right Whales has indicated that they may be inbred and becoming sterile, having been so reduced by whaling that only a very small number of whales remain alive. Scientists have obtained small tissue samples from these whales by firing arrows attached to lines that can be retrieved after firing. Preliminary results indicate that all North Atlantic Right Whales may have descended from only three families on the female side and, perhaps, from as few as three individual females (Allen 1995). Since the majority of individual whales have been identified, it is known that at least 13 of 65 sexually mature females have had no calves since 1989 (Allen 1995). In a species that reproduces so slowly and is suffering such casualties from ship collisions, this may spell extinction. The rate of increase for these whales is only about 2 percent. By contrast, Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) in the South Atlantic and Antarctic waters, which numbered 100,000 until they were decimated by whaling (Leatherwood and Reeves 1983), are increasing at a rate of 7 to 8 percent a year, far faster than the North Atlantic population. However, with a population of only about 3,000, they are still highly endangered (Allen 1995).

The Bowhead Whales (Balaena mysticetus) of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans were killed in great numbers from early times by whalers from England and the Netherlands, nearly causing the whales’ extinction (Lean and Hinrichsen 1992). Beginning in the 17th century, on the other side of the Atlantic, whalers from Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, pursued Sperm Whales (Physeter catodon) for their valuable oil, which was used in lamps and as lubrication. With a fleet totaling 150 ships, they eliminated the majority of these whales. Then in the 18th century, whalers discovered the enormous numbers of Sperm Whales in the Pacific. By 1846, New England whalers had 736 ships at sea, and only the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania saved the Sperm Whales. Right Whales, Gray Whales and Bowhead Whales of the Pacific were all mercilessly hunted until they, too, neared extinction (Allen 1942).

When an explosive harpoon was developed in Norway in 1865 that could be fired into a whale's body from a cannon mounted in the bow of a ship, a new wave of slaughter began (Allen 1942). Its deadly power was soon turned on the rorquals (Humpback; Blue (Balaenoptera musculus); Fin (Balaenoptera physalus); and Sei Whales (Balaenoptera borealis) far away from shore. These whales had been difficult for whalers to take prior to the development of the explosive harpoon because they were swift and strong swimmers of the open ocean (Allen 1942). The new explosive harpoons, although deadly, did not kill instantly, and these whales suffered slow deaths. The huge numbers taken by these harpoons over the next decades caused their populations to decline to commercial extinction.

Factory Ship Whaling

Whalers then turned to the Antarctic where vast numbers of Blue, Humpback, Sei and Fin Whales migrated each summer to feed on the abundant krill. In 1903, the first "floating factory" whaling ship sailed from Spitzbergen, Norway. These ships, when moored near a land base, could process whales brought alongside by small killer boats. The initial victims of these new ships were the Antarctic Humpback Whales which congregated each summer near the Antarctic Peninsula. The factory ships were joined by some older vessels, and exploitation was unrelenting. About 70,000 Humpback Whales were killed between 1909 and 1913, and by World War I, these whales were almost extinct in the Southern Ocean (Garrett 1981). The toll of Antarctic whales taken in the early 20th century was staggering: more than 122,000 were killed between 1909 and 1927 (Reeves 1979). Humpback Whales finally received protection in 1966 from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but pirate whalers as well as certain Caribbean nations continue to hunt them.

Factory ships were developed in 1925 with rear slipways through which whales could be winched onto the ships. Whales could be killed either in the open ocean or near ice floes and pulled onto the deck for flensing and rendering (Garrett 1981). With this development, the fate of the vast populations of Blue and Fin Whales of the Antarctic was sealed. First the Blue Whales were slaughtered. They stayed close to the pack ice, convenient for both factory ships and moored vessels. More than 15,000 a year were taken in the 1920s, with a high of almost 30,000 in 1930 (Allen 1942). Soon these mammoth whales, the largest animals on Earth, declined. By 1934, the average length of Blue Whales killed had dropped to 79 feet; 41 percent of the females caught were immature (Allen 1942). These great whales do not reach sexual maturity until females attain a length of 78 feet. The 1937 International Agreement for the Regulation of Whaling reduced the limit to 70 feet for Blue Whales, thus failing to conserve breeding females (Allen 1942). Between 1910 and 1966, a staggering 330,000 Blue Whales were killed in the Antarctic (Lean and Hinrichsen 1992).

After World War II, the IWC was established under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to "provide for the conservation, development, and optimum utilization of the whale resources" (Ehrlich 1981). Member nations now include both whaling and non-whaling countries. The Scientific Committee of the IWC recommends restricting the number of whales killed when it determines that the species will decline as a result. In the early years of the IWC, these recommendations were rarely followed by whaling nations, and so little knowledge of great whale population, biology and status had been uncovered that quotas were far too high to sustain these slow-reproducing species. The destruction of the great whales is a true biological tragedy. Even after almost 40 years of protection, their populations have increased only slightly. Their life histories are certainly part of the explanation. Blue Whale females, for example, are thought to become sexually mature only when they reach 10 years of age. Gestation lasts 12 months, and the single 23 to 27-foot long calf stays with its mother for about two or three years. Sperm Whales do not mature until they are past 20 years of age, and mature bulls, who are the major breeders, are at least 50 years old. Killing of these whales, which did not end until 1983, wiped out the vast majority of big bull Sperm Whales.

Until recently, it was not known how long whales live. New findings are astounding. A Bowhead Whale recently killed by Eskimos was found to have two stone harpoon blades embedded in its blubber; as reported by National Geographic ("Geographica," March 1996). This discovery fixed the whale's age at more than 100 years because the use of stone harpoons ended a century ago when metal tools were brought to Alaska. The whale was only a few years old when it was wounded by the handmade pointed tool, and Stephen Loring, an Arctic specialist at the Smithsonian Institution, estimated that when killed, it was between 100 and 130 years old. Further research by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography on three Bowhead Whales killed by Inupiat Eskimos in northern Alaska estimated their ages at death at between 135 and 172 years old. The age of a fourth Bowhead was estimated at 211 years old, which would make the Bowhead Whale the longest-living of all animals, surpassing the oldest known land tortoises. The ages were determined by studying changes in amino acids in the lenses of the whales' eyes. Harpoon points made of ivory and stone, not used since the 19th century, have been found in other Bowhead Whales killed in recent years. Moreover, several generations of hunters have spoken of seeing the same Bowhead Whales, which they recognized as individuals based on their markings.

Whales knew few enemies in the sea before man, and they evolved no defenses that could have protected them from harpoons tearing through their flesh, nor could they increase their rate of reproduction to compensate for the extremely high kill. Another factor hampering their recovery has been illegal whaling. Blue Whales and other endangered species were illegally harpooned long after they received official protection, and this is still taking place.

During its first 30 years, the IWC permitted the deaths of 1.5 million great whales (Bright 1991). It pushed the very species that it had taken responsibility to conserve closer to extinction. Blue Whales, the largest whales, measuring up to 100 feet, were totally eliminated, and smaller and smaller whales were caught. The average length of the Blue Whales caught had declined to 73 feet by 1965 (Scheffer 1974). At this point, when the species had been reduced to only 6 percent of its original numbers, the IWC finally accorded protection (Scheffer 1974). Blue Whales number only about 12,000 worldwide. All populations of this whale in the Southern, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans are listed as Endangered by the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Decimation of 81-foot Fin Whales in the Antarctic followed until their populations collapsed early in the 1960s. Fin Whales in the North Atlantic became overexploited in the 1970s. Whalers then turned to the Sei Whales, fastest of the whales, a sleek species reaching a length of up to 58 feet (Heintzelman 1981). When these whales became depleted, the Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), the smallest of the great whales at less than 33 feet long, became the major prey of whalers.


The Cruelty of Whaling

Added to the decimation of entire species, whaling involves great cruelty. An eyewitness on an Australian whaler in 1977 described the long death of a great whale:

The harpoon seemed to pass right through it, which can happen and the second explosion took longer. The whole event this time seemed in slow motion. The whale dived, and a great green cloud burst up to the surface. Blood turns green underwater at 50 feet...or was this some of its intestines? It came up on the starboard side, its huge head, a third of its total body size, shaking itself, and then it gave out a most terrible cry, half in protest, half in pain, and then it dived again. They loaded the next harpoon, the killer, but could not get a shot at it as it twisted and turned, hurting itself all the more. Finally, the lookout in the crow's nest shouted down that it was coming up dying. Its mouth was opening.

Australian Government Printing Office. Whales and Whaling. 1979.

No method exists to kill whales instantly. The cold harpoons used by some native peoples and by other whalers to kill thousands of Minke Whales are cruel, sometimes taking an hour to kill. Native whaling methods are not regulated. The trauma and rage experienced by stricken whales was documented by Greenpeace activists who sailed to the North Pacific in 1975 in order to place themselves between Russian whalers and their prey, the Sperm Whale. One of the first observations was a small whale, well under the 30-foot limit, floating dead on the water. The Greenpeace crew positioned their rubber raft between the killer boat and the whales, believing that the harpooner would not shoot the 250-pound harpoon with the possibility of killing their crew, but they were mistaken (Ellis 1991). The harpooner fired over their heads, scoring a direct hit on a large Sperm whale; the whale died in a sea of its own blood and guts. Then another whale in the pod charged at the Greenpeacers (Ellis 1991). As soon as the huge Sperm Whale perceived they were not the harpooners, it headed instead for the Soviet whaler, with its powerful jaw clapping; "this whale charged the harpoon boat and seemed to leap out of the water in an attempt to get to the gunner" (Ellis 1991). When the whale was close to the whaling boat, the gunner pointed his cannon almost straight down and shot the whale, killing it (Ellis 1991).

The whale filmed by Greenpeace had made a valiant attempt to destroy the gunner who had killed its fellow whale, perhaps its mate, and had also realized that the Greenpeacers were not at fault. Killing such an intelligent and courageous animal for commercial profit is absolutely unjustifiable. Sperm Whales have, in fact, the largest brains of any animal, weighing 20 pounds (Ellis 1991). Yet we know little of their intelligence, habits and biology. Some scientists have theorized that Sperm Whales stun their prey with sonic blasts; they descend to depths up to 2 miles and are known to feed on Giant Squid, perhaps after stunning and holding the squids’ slippery bodies in their sharp teeth (Ellis 1991). There is oil in the whales’ heads, which may play a role in such acoustical feats.

In 1981, a major humane victory was won. The cold harpoon was banned for all commercial whaling effective at the end of 1982. The decision was a precedent-setting event. Humaneness became an issue to be considered, and the IWC undertook the responsibility to insure that methods are not unnecessarily cruel. This is a relative term, however, since all existing methods are intrinsically painful and inhumane. At the 1995 IWC meeting, a Workshop on Whale Killing Methods heard a research paper on the killing of Minke Whales. These whales are first mutilated by an explosive grenade then, several minutes later, shot with rifles or prodded with an electric lance. Although some have considered these methods to result in a quick death for the whales, researchers have maintained through examination of physiological evidence that breathing and heartbeat continue even when the body is immobilized. The limp and dying Minke Whale may be sensitive and capable of experiencing both fear and physical distress for significant amounts of time. In fact, the IWC tacitly acknowledged at its 1995 meeting that the electric lance was inhumane by passing a Resolution calling for a suspension of its use. At the 1996 IWC meeting, a United Kingdom/New Zealand proposal to ban the use of the electric lance failed.

During a recent investigation of the killing of Minke Whales by Norway for National Geographic, a whale already struck by a lance carrying a thermal grenade revived as it was being reeled on board (Chadwick 2001). It rammed the ship, causing the mast to break and sending two crew members into the sea; it then escaped (Chadwick 2001). Its fate is unknown, but its survival is unlikely.

Another cruel aspect of whaling is the killing of female whales, leaving their calves to starve. Some whalers in the past killed calves first, knowing their mothers would not desert them. In 1935, the killing of mothers and calves was finally prohibited by the IWC, but some whalers did not abide by the prohibition. Moreover, the rule may be impossible to enforce. The harpooner who fires into a pod of whales can hardly be sure that the whale he hits is not a female with calf.

Pirate Whaling

A young female Blue Whale was harpooned off the Peruvian coast in 1978, more than a decade after their killing was made illegal. As described by Craig Van Note in his expose, Outlaw Whalers:

A 150-lb. harpoon had been fired into the side of the whale . . . after penetrating three feet, a massive grenade at the tip of the harpoon exploded, tearing the whale's internal organs to a bloody pulp with jagged, fist-sized metal fragments. In her agony, the . . . whale tore at the heavy barbs that had expanded from the sides of the harpoon. Wrenching her 75-ton body, she pulled free from the harpoon and heavy rope that ran back to the catcher boat. With a gaping wound in her side, the whale dove deep to successfully escape her pursuers. But the terrible wound caused massive hemorrhaging and each succeeding day the whale grew weaker. Finally she could not hold herself up to the surface to breathe. So she swam ashore through the surf, sliding to a halt on the coarse sand at Conchan. There Peruvian conservationists gathered to witness the final hours of life of the blue whale. She lay on her side, with the harpoon-wound facing shore, gasping for breath" (Van Note 1979). The late Felipe Benavides, a Peruvian conservationist who fought to drive the foreign whalers from Peru's shores for 30 years said, 'This young whale was one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. Watching her die was one of the saddest experiences of my life' (Van Note 1979).

In The Blue Whale, which won the National Book Award, George Small (1971) described case after case of illegal whaling. The Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, one of the world's wealthiest individuals, wantonly killed thousands of critically endangered whales. In the 1950s, a whaling fleet owned by Onassis illegally slaughtered numerous female Blue Whales as well as their nursing young. Its factory ship, the Olympic Challenger, registered in Panama, became a notorious pirate whaler; seven German citizens who served on this ship signed affidavits at the Norwegian Consulate in Hamburg in 1956, testifying that they had witnessed innumerable illegal whaling practices and had photographic evidence of whale carcasses and ship's logs (Small 1971). Among the infractions of the Olympic Challenger in 1954 was the slaughter of 285 Blue Whales, 169 Fin Whales, 105 Humpbacks, 4,648 Sperm Whales, and 21 Sei Whales. The ship declared a catch of only 2,348 Sperm Whales. Of the Blue Whales killed, many were young: 35 were 59 feet or less in length and two were less than 49 feet (Small 1971). IWC rules at that time prohibited all factory ship whaling of baleen whales between the Antarctic and the Equator (Small 1971). Onassis' ships shot baby Sperm Whales before they even had teeth; some were only 5 meters long and must have been newborn calves (Small 1971). On occasion, four young whales at a time were hauled on board by winch; often a whale was so small that it was only necessary to remove the harpoon and entrails before the carcass was dropped whole into the cookers (Small 1971). The entrails of baby whales jettisoned by the Olympic Challenger floated for some time, providing evidence of its illegal whaling (Small 1971). After many protests were lodged, Onassis made a payment of $3 million to a special fund, which was taken as an admission of guilt (Small 1971).

In 1994, records from Soviet whalers were uncovered, documenting the illegal killing of hundreds of Blue Whales for decades, beginning in the 1950s and continuing long after they had been officially protected. These whales, under the direction of the KGB, developed sophisticated methods of preventing detection. The decks were surrounded in steam, hiding the carcasses of protected species, including highly endangered Right Whales. Several hundred of these whales were killed in the Okhotsk Sea in the 1960s, and more in the South Atlantic (AWI 1994). The Soviets’ radio communications were coded, and messages such as "Sink the prohibited whales" were sent when aircraft appeared overhead. Professor Alexey V. Yablokov, a member of the Animal Welfare Institute's Scientific Committee, examined these records, which revealed this shocking flouting of whaling bans. Yablokov studied cetacean morphology during the 1950s and 1960s and received many specimens from Humpback and Right Whales that had been killed illegally (AWI 1994).

The Long Battle for the Whales

The first major step toward ending whaling came in 1971 when the U.S. Secretary of the Interior banned commercial whaling by the United States. Also in 1971, Congress passed a Resolution calling on the Secretary of State to negotiate a 10-year moratorium on commercial whaling with other nations. The 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) banned all harming and killing of marine mammals without a permit, further protecting whales. The same year, Canada stopped commercial whaling after failing to fill quotas allocated by the IWC (Ellis 1991). Years later, however, Canada became one of the countries voting against whaling moratoriums at IWC meetings. Listing of the great whales on the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973 banned import and export of eight species, thereby cutting off commercial imports of whale meat. At its 1972 meeting, the IWC rejected the U.S. proposal for a moratorium, instead voting a quota of 45,000 whales.
For more than a decade, conservation and humane organizations fought to reduce quotas set by the IWC of whales that could be killed. Gradually over the years, representatives from non-whaling countries joined the IWC and voted for lower quotas. Public opinion in most countries is solidly on the side of the whales. The fight to stop commercial whaling through decisions of the IWC was finally won when a moratorium was passed in 1982. At present, virtually all the large whales and several smaller whales have been listed on the U.S. Endangered Species Act and banned from international trade through their listing on Appendix I of CITES. Japan refused to accept the CITES listings and took reservations on most species of great whales, meaning that it gave notice it will not enforce these listings. Any country may choose to do this without losing its membership--a major CITES loophole. Today, Japan retains reservations on Baird's Beaked Whale (Berardius bairdii), Sei, Bryde's (Balaenoptera edeni), Fin, Minke and Sperm Whales, although officially it stopped importing whale meat in 1992 (Chan et al. 1995a). When the ban on commercial whaling voted by the IWC took effect in 1986, many believed that the long fight had been won. Unfortunately, whaling continued in various forms--some allowed by the IWC, and some in defiance of it. On May 19, 1992, the U.S. House of Representatives set an excellent example when it voted unanimously to pass a Resolution supporting an indefinite moratorium on whaling, stating, in part, "Whereas there is significant widespread support in the international community for the view that, for scientific, ecological, aesthetic, and educational reasons, whales should no longer be commercially hunted . . ." This Resolution did not, unfortunately, change the minds of the few nations who continue to kill whales.
Aboriginal whaling by the Inuit tribe and other native peoples has long been permitted under quota by the IWC, even for endangered species such as Bowhead and Humpback Whales. The IWC, at its 1993 meeting, called upon its Scientific Committee to investigate management regimes to govern subsistence whaling in order to minimize depletions of whale populations. Inuits in Alaska have continued whaling as a tradition--more than a need--since they have received substantial settlements from the U.S. government, and some lease their lands to oil and gas companies for high royalties. A Bowhead Whale killed in a hunt in 1996 had been stabbed by 14 harpoons and shot with countless bullets before it died (Vlessides 1998). After two days, it rose to the surface and was towed to shore, one of the few of these endangered whales to have been taken in the eastern Canadian Arctic since hunting the species without a license became illegal (Vlessides 1998). Bowhead Whale populations in the eastern Arctic had fallen from more than 10,000 to about 700 in 1996, but this hunt was to be a rebirth of an old Nunavut tradition (Vlessides 1998). The Inuit used sonar devices to search for the whale after it had been struck and shot, and they carried satellite phones. When the whale was towed to a rocky beach, 100 villagers sliced a ceremonial piece of blubber from the whale, then the hunters left and the meat was never cut. The dead Bowhead rotted on the beach, and the following spring, the community members paid to get rid of the carcass, some of which was set adrift on ice floes and the rest burned (Vlessides 1998). This whale, which might have been more than 100 years old, died a slow and painful death for no good reason.
Another Bowhead Whale was killed off the Northwest Territories in 1998, with an exploding harpoon gun. It was smaller than normal adults, only 43 feet instead of 60 feet long, and was fed on by natives of various Inuit settlements (Nickerson 1998). The International Whaling Commission condemned the hunt in a formal Resolution and implored Canada to ban it, as did many activists and conservation organizations (Nickerson 1998). In the waters where this whale was killed near Baffin Island, these whales have not rebounded in numbers from past whaling. Canada left the IWC in 1982, insisting that it is no longer a whaling nation, and defended the hunt as "sustainable" because designated communities may kill a single Bowhead every other year (Nickerson 1998). With a population of only about 7,200 worldwide, and a low population in the Canadian Arctic, any take might be more than the species can sustain.
Moreover, the meat and blubber are laden with highly toxic chemicals (see below). Should the Inuit choose to let the Bowhead Whales increase without killing any of these extremely rare animals, they might come to realize that certain ancient traditions can be left behind without harming their culture.
Our knowledge of whales is only fragmentary, a science in its early stages. Research investigations are only gradually accumulating crucial data. Yet in 1974, effective in 1975, the IWC adopted the so-called "New Management Procedure" (NMP), under which whale populations were allowed to be reduced to 54 percent of their estimated original numbers. Changed somewhat, it became the "Revised Management Procedure" in the 1980s. This highly simplistic procedure is based on a lack of scientific data, including inaccurate estimates of populations and inadequate information about whale reproductive biology. Whale numbers are estimated by research vessels counting whales seen to surface, in itself a highly unscientific method resulting in "ball park" or vague estimates. First, whales spend only about 5 percent of their time on the surface. Second, estimates of original numbers, a crucial aspect to this approach, are based on records of whales killed, with guesses as to what percentage of the population these represented. Third, in order to understand the population biology of a species--its longevity, rate of reproduction, natural mortality rate, differences in survival between populations, diet, and behavior--other aspects of its life history must be known. This crucial information is lacking for every species of large whale.
A dramatic illustration of the inaccuracy of whale population estimates is that of Norway's whaling of North Atlantic Minke Whales. Norway killed an average of 3,500 Minkes a year in the North Atlantic in the mid-1950s, before cutting back to 1,800 a year until 1983 (Chadwick 2001). In Antarctic waters, Russian and Japanese whalers killed 65,000 between 1971 and 1981 (Chadwick 2001). In 1986, the year the moratorium on commercial whaling became effective, Norway, along with Japan, Peru, the U.S.S.R. and Iceland, filed objections (Bright 1991). IWC members may defy regulations merely by filing such objections. Norwegian whalers killed 383 Minke Whales in 1986 and 375 in 1987; in 1988 Norway announced it would kill whales for scientific research, which is allowed by IWC (Bright 1991).
For several years, Norway killed small numbers of whales for "scientific research" but, in 1992, resumed killing large numbers of these whales. The population estimate upon which they based their self-imposed quotas was 86,700 Minke Whales in the North Atlantic. On this basis, it killed 301 whales. Scientific estimates later revised the population number to 69,600--an enormous difference of 17,100 whales. Norway then lowered its own quota to 232, which the IWC's Scientific Committee believed to be still too high. To its credit, the IWC denounced the whaling and, at its annual meeting in 1995, passed a strongly worded Resolution against Norway. Not only did Norway begin commercial whaling in defiance of IWC resolutions, but attempts were made to smuggle the meat--mislabeled--to Japan. This scheme was uncovered, and even this blot on Norway's international reputation did not result in a change of heart regarding this slaughter. In January 2001, Norway announced that it would openly sell whale meat and blubber to Japan, breaking a long-time agreement with the United States against international sale of whale products. Japan and Norway, recently supported by Iceland, have unsuccessfully petitioned the IWC to lift the moratorium on commercial whaling and allow Minke Whales to be hunted and have attempted to ease CITES restrictions that list the species on Appendix I, banning commercial trade, also without success.
How the IWC can arrive at any quota on Minke Whales is beyond reason, since almost nothing is known about Minke Whales--not even where they mate or calve (Chadwick 2001). These elaborate population estimates are obviously totally unscientific. Minke Whales have no distinguishing characteristics that might allow them to be identified as individuals as is the case with Humpback and Right Whales. Humpback Whales have a great variety of black and white patterns on their tails, and no two are exactly alike. Northern Right Whales have callosities of various parasites, such as crustaceans, different with each whale. More than a decade has been spent by researchers working to document these individuals in the northwest Atlantic and enter the information into a database. No such research is possible as a means of counting Minke Whales.
Off the coast of Scotland, where Minke Whales are protected, they approach boats and lift their heads above water, eyeing the boat and its occupants (Chadwick 2001). They have been seen leaping out of the water in apparent games that went on for more than an hour. Recently one was rescued after stranding on rocks. The Scottish rescuer said: "Off it went until it was almost out of sight. Then it returned. We were worried it would go onto the shore. But it swam away, and we decided the animal just came back to say thanks and cheerio. That's when we started to worry the poor thing might be going to Norway next" (Chadwick 2001). These whales have been swimming around boats and scuba divers along the Great Barrier Reef since the early 1980s, and some ecotours offer Minke-watching (Chadwick 2001). Some of these whales stay close to boats and divers for up to 11 hours, and while they seem silent in northern waters where they are killed, here they communicate in grunts, growls and "boi-oi-oings" (Chadwick 2001).
Whales have shown friendliness toward one another as well as toward humans who dive with them. An encounter between Blue Whales in the 1970s was witnessed by researchers on a vessel off the eastern Canadian coast. They spotted four Blue Whales: "Two pairs of whales coming from opposite directions met, churning the water as they rolled and dove about one another in what seemed, to human eyes, a tumultuous greeting. During the commotion one of the whales breached a third of its length . . ." (Vontobel 1975). This must have been a truly unforgettable sight and an indication that these whales communicate and form bonds with one another. Within the past decade, Blue Whales have increased somewhat. In the Pacific, they have recently begun congregating in or near a marine sanctuary off California's Santa Barbara Islands, where scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are studying them. Almost 2,000 whales are regularly seen here, creating excitement for whale watchers and scientists alike.
As one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Norway has profited from rich offshore oil reserves, and has a highly educated, liberal society. As the world's second largest oil exporter, it earns so much revenue that the government has been setting aside about $8.2 billion a year (AP 1997). It does not have an economic need for whaling income. The Prime Minister who first endorsed Norwegian whaling, Gro Brundtland, was known as a "Green" world leader, preaching environmental concern and backing strong national legislation to preserve Norway's environment. As a conserver of marine life, however, Norway has recently proven to be wasteful and destructive. Its centuries-old fishery has collapsed, putting thousands of employees out of work, and causing resentment among a population dependent on Atlantic Cod as a dietary and economic mainstay.
As a totally flawed and specious argument, Norway explained its return to whaling by stating it was needed to allow cod to recover. A 1990 report by the Norwegian Fisheries Ministry concluded that the Atlantic Cod catch would jump 5.6 percent the year following a kill of 1,700 Minke Whales, and higher employment would result (Bright 1991). Other Norwegian researchers have suggested that causing actual extinctions of marine mammals would increase fisheries value by 150 percent! (Bright 1991). Olaf Flaaten, a Norwegian professor who advised Brundtland, described marine mammals in 1988 as "vermin," causing great losses of fishes, citing Minke Whales and Harp Seals as the worst offenders. Apparently, Norway has been conducting control operations of marine mammals for some time. At least 60,000 Harp Seals died in Norwegian fish nets in 1987, taken intentionally (Bright 1991). A Norwegian seal hunt killed 14,000 seals in 1989, and Harp Seal populations in the Barents Sea have been halved since the early 1980s (Bright 1991). Scientists from the IWC and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) have called the theory that fish populations will be increased by killing marine mammals totally baseless (Bright 1991). The underlying cause of the fisheries collapse is overfishing of Atlantic Cod and other fish and their prey, Capelin and Atlantic Herring. In 1996, 10 tons of whale meat were allegedly smuggled from Norway to Japan, and the same year, Norway announced that it would increase the kill of North Atlantic Minke Whales to 425, almost double 1995's catch. Minke Whale meat is sold in Norwegian markets, and the country plans to begin exporting it--in defiance of CITES--to other countries that have taken reservations on whale listings (Chadwick 2001).
The views of Norwegians who endorse slaughter of marine mammals may not reflect the consensus of the Norwegian public. In 1995 a Norwegian newspaper, Oslo Arbeiderbladet, representing the Prime Minister's own Labor Party, editorialized: "The Norwegian battle to gain international acceptance for whaling is already lost. The sooner we realize this, the better. The only argument that could be used to defend the whaling, namely that the science is on our side, is no longer valid. The so-called 'secure' figures of Norway were shown to be based on wrong figures and mistakes in the data programs." The editorial concluded that Norway must stop whaling if it wishes to be taken seriously as an environmentally concerned nation. Some Norwegian whalers, however, claim that whaling does not differ from cod or herring fishing, and that whales are just "big mountains of meat" (Gibbs 1997).
The United States chose not to punish Norway for its illegal whaling. In Section 8 of the U.S. Fisherman's Protective Act, the "Pelly Amendment" permits the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries whose nationals have engaged in taking a marine resource in such a manner as to "diminish the effectiveness of an international fishery conservation program." In 1979, an additional sanction was voted into law, the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment. This amends the Fishery Conservation and Management Act to cut fish allocations by half on certification by the Secretary of Commerce that a nation has violated the provisions of the Pelly Amendment. If a nation persists, all fishing rights are canceled. For Norway, its exports of fisheries products to the United States are considerable, amounting to more than $140 million each year. The Secretary of Commerce took the initial action of certifying Norway under the Pelly Amendment, but President Bill Clinton chose not to place an embargo on its fishery exports to the United States. In a letter to Congress in October 1993, President Clinton said the United States’ objectives could best to achieved by "delaying the implementation of sanctions until we have exhausted all good-faith efforts to persuade Norway to follow agreed conservation measures." Prime Minister Brundtland came to the United States and successfully lobbied to prevent economic sanctions against Norway. Before leaving office in 2001, President Clinton decided not to impose import restrictions on Japan under the Pelly Amendment for expanding its "scientific" whaling to include Bryde’s and Sperm Whales.
Traditionally, the United States has maintained a strong anti-whaling stance and has been a major force in bringing about reductions in whaling quotas and the 1982 moratorium. Japan and Norway, however, are now whaling without any basis on sound science, and in violation of the spirit of the moratorium. Iceland is planning to reenter commercial whaling as well. Japan's high take of Minkes in Antarctic waters violates the 1994 sanctuary designation of the seas surrounding Antarctica (Chadwick 2001). To open markets worldwide to many types of whales, Japan has presented numerous proposals to downlist whales on CITES: two would have placed North Pacific and Southern Hemisphere stocks of the Minke Whale on Appendix II, one would have transferred eastern Pacific stock of the Gray Whale to Appendix II, and one would have downlisted the northwestern Pacific stock of Bryde's Whales from Appendix I to II. Bryde’s whales occur in all the world's oceans.
Japan has also continued its "scientific" whaling and announced in November 1994 that it would begin selling 65 tons of meat from Minke whales caught in the northwest Pacific. In an eight-year period from 1980 onward, Japan killed 28,818 Minke whales, and it has also imported enormous amounts of whale meat--123,955 tons between 1980 and 1991 (Chan et al. 1995a). This country provides the world's largest retail market for whale meat, buying illegally caught meat from pirate whalers around the world. A recent AWI-supported investigation by Steven Galster and Rebecca Chen (1994) uncovered enormous caches of illegal whale meat stockpiles held in Russia for eventual sale to Japan; 232 metric tons were found in Vladivostok alone, including thousands of pounds of meat from Bryde's Whales. This 50-foot species has been on Appendix I since the 1970s, and the illegal meat was being smuggled from Taiwan to South Korea and then to Japan. The latter smuggling operation began in 1988 and continued until at least 1994 (Galster and Chen 1994). Investigators found Bryde's Whales’ skin and fat being openly sold in a Japanese shop in 1995 (Chan et al. 1995a). Yet Japan claims it has legal stocks of frozen Sei, Fin, Bryde's and Sperm Whale meat (Chan et al. 1995a). Similar studies in the intervening years have determined that, based on DNA studies of whale meat sold in Japan, protected and endangered whales, including the Blue Whale, are still sold in Tokyo (ABC News, July 14, 2001).
Japanese and American toxicologists have also analyzed whale and dolphin meat and found extremely high levels of heavy metals (such as mercury) and toxic chemicals (such as dioxin and PCBs)--high enough to pose a serious health threat merely by eating a few ounces of blubber (Chadwick 2001). A study in the Faroe Islands north of Scotland found brain and heart damage in children whose mothers had eaten whale meat (Chadwick 2001).
Japanese national legislation does not cover the regulation of all whale meat sales, and it retails at an average of $64 per pound. In 1993 Japan enacted legislation that prohibited the capture, possession or sale of Blue and Bowhead Whales without a permit issued by the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. However, this is not meaningful legislation since the Blue Whale has been legally protected from killing and international trade for decades, and Bowhead Whale meat can only be consumed by the native peoples who kill them. In another recent investigation by two scientists working for Earthtrust, DNA analyses were conducted on whale meat being sold in Japan. This sophisticated forensic study determined that the meat came from Humpback, Fin, and North Atlantic Minke Whale (AWI 1994). Humpback and Fin Whales are endangered species, and the revelation of this trade should have resulted in international sanctions, but it did not.
In 1996, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce formally certified Japan under the Pelly Amendment for outlaw whaling. Japan’s continued defiance of the IWC by granting itself "Scientific Permits" for research represents a lack of compliance with international treaties. An IWC Resolution recommended that scientific whaling be non-lethal. Yet in 1996, Japan announced that it increased the quota its ships can kill in the Antarctic from 330 to 440 Minke Whales, and continued to kill 100 whales in the north Pacific (Kristof 1996). At the 1996 IWC meeting, a Resolution was passed requesting Japan to halt its scientific whaling, in particular in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, and Japan's request for 50 Minke Whales from the North Pacific was turned down for the ninth year in succession. Although the Pelly Amendment allows trade sanctions on the enormous quantities of fisheries products that are imported into the United States, President Clinton announced on February 9, 1996, that he would not impose any penalty on Japan. The Animal Welfare Institute, through full-page newspaper advertisements and mailings, opposed the illegal whaling of both Japan and Norway, urging boycotts of products and services from these countries.
South Korea and Taiwan, while not permitting whaling, have shipped illegal whale meat to Japan. In 1993, South Korea received 3.5 tons of Minke Whale meat being smuggled from Norway, and one of its freighters was caught smuggling whale meat into Japan in 1994 (Chan et al. 1995a). Investigators found baleen whale meat and dolphin for sale in a vast fish market in Pusan, South Korea, in April 1995 (Chan et al. 1995a). Taiwan exported 14,590 boxes of whale meat to Singapore in 1993, and it is suspected of laundering illegal whale meat (Chan et al. 1995a).
The United States and other countries are under pressure to agree to a return to commercial whaling should whale populations increase. The IWC's "Revised Management Procedure" would authorize the slaughter. Estimates of a very large population of between 510,000 and 1.4 million Minke Whales in the Southern Hemisphere have proven to be too high, yet the IWC's Scientific Committee has approved a management plan that would permit the killing of 5,000 to 10,000 of these whales a year (Chadwick 2001). Japan's request for a Scientific Permit to kill Bryde's and Sperm Whales was turned down by the IWC in 2000, but it proceeded to take five Sperm Whales, 43 Bryde's Whales and 40 Minke Whales in a hunt in the North Pacific during that same summer. The same year, its proposals to downlist this species from Appendix I at the CITES Conference also failed. In the fall of 2000, Japanese whalers sailed to Antarctica for a five-month "research" trip, with plans to harvest up to 440 Minke Whales (Chadwick 2000). Both the IWC and CITES lack any enforcement powers, and the effectiveness of these Treaties depends on national legislation. For this reason, whalers have flouted regulations by killing protected whales for decades, with little fear of retribution. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) compiled a list of known violations by whalers since 1942, involving thousands of rare and endangered whales to illustrate this (AWI 1995). Those countries and organizations that believe in a return to commercial whaling support a cold-blooded approach to whales that does not recognize their intelligence, friendliness, and the lack of information on the extreme stresses they endure from other threats, including: pollution by toxic chemicals; ozone depletion that is destroying phytoplankton, which is the basis of marine food chains; collisions with ships; entanglements in fishing nets; and coastal development, to name just a few.
To end whaling and trade, economic alternatives such as whale watching should be seriously considered by those countries that continue to whale. Even Japan has recently begun whale watching tours in the Ogasawara Islands, bringing in sizeable revenues. One Japanese fishermen said: "Whales have always been regarded as a kind of divine omen in this area. I feel it is an atrocious thing to kill whales. We Japanese do not have to eat whales anymore" (Anon. 1992). In 1992, an estimated 19,267 people participated in whale watching in Japan, a $10 million business according to New Scientist (May 8, 1993), which also reports that Japanese people are increasingly critical of their government's whaling. In 1996, anti-whaling pressures increased within Japan, and many young Japanese now consider the whale a mammal rather than a meal, but this has not influenced the government's policies (Kristof 1996). A Japanese harpooner quoted in The New York Times angrily disputed critics of whaling, saying: "I don't think of whales as especially smart. They're just like ordinary fish. We feel that they're just a big present from the sea" (Kristof 1996). Most Japanese are unaware that Japan is still involved in whaling (Kristof 1996).
In the United States, almost $200 million was earned by whale watching boats and associated businesses in 1991 (WDCS 1991). In 1992, revenues from the whale watching industry increased to $260 million, and a survey found that whale watching was carried out in 37 countries (New Scientist, 8 May 1993). By 1998, the worldwide total revenues from whale watching topped $1 billion, according to a study by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). This far exceeds revenues from whaling (BG 2000). Nine million people whale watched in 1998 in 87 countries, according to the IFAW study. The sale of whale meat represents a one-time profit, as opposed to the renewable benefits from watching whales that may live to be 50 or more years old. An adult Minke Whale brings about $100,000 on the market (Talmadge 2000)--a significant amount, but a fraction of its potential income from whale watching. Products obtained from whales are not essential, and economically, far more people profit from whale watching than from the whale products industry. They include whale watching boat companies, local motels and restaurants and tourist shops. By contrast, whaling profits the whaler, the wholesale buyer and the retail seller. These arguments should not be necessary, however, in view of the extraordinary qualities of these fascinating animals. Whales possess tremendous appeal, and the research that will reveal the most about them will be based on observations of live whales, not necropsies of dead ones.
A growing number of people condemn the killing of all cetaceans. Iceland's illegal whaling in the late 1980s was halted when conservation and humane organizations persuaded many commercial importers of Icelandic fish to cancel orders, costing that country some $50 million. The actions of governments, individuals, organizations and consumer boycotts, combined with public opinion, have brought about whaling moratoriums and country bans. Only stronger enforcement of laws and better public awareness in the whaling countries themselves about the cruelty to these gentle and intelligent creatures may bring whaling to an end. The presence of these sentient beings in the ocean is an inspiration to all, but their survival may depend on active opposition to their killing.