There for the Whales

There for the Whales

The IWC (International Whaling Commission) is a main player in the protection of whales. It was formed to pull together hitherto piecemeal national responses to the mass depletion of whale populations through commercial whaling. Its principal power lies in passing legislation by vote amongst its member nations. However, the IWC is not primarily a conservation body per se; its rationale states it recognises

the interest of the nations of the world in safeguarding for future generations the great natural resources represented by the whale stocks’” in order to “make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry.

As part of this process, in 1982 the IWC decided upon a moratorium on commercial whaling – which is still in force today. But the opposing tensions of whaling countries and conservation-minded countries have made for a bumpy ride, leading to Japan announcing that they will withdraw from the IWC, and the moratorium, later in 2019. There are other organisations, with no legislative power and funded by donations, which use the power of education and of public opinion, to challenge whale hunting, and other forms of harm to whales.


Originally formed as an action group in 1971, to challenge US nuclear weapons testing in Alaska, Greenpeace soon grew in size and remit. In 1975, its first anti-whaling campaign began, with protestors challenging Soviet whaling ships near California’s coast. Activists used speedy, manoeuvrable inflatable dinghies to buffer whales from the hunters. The iconic Rainbow Warrior ship was used in 1978 to challenge Norwegian and Icelandic whaling ships, with a view to forcing the hand of the IWC on banning whaling. In 1979, Australia unilaterally banned whaling within its fishing zone. Following several more years of direct action by Greenpeace, Spain put a stop to whaling in its waters in 1981. A year later, in 1982, the IWC announced its world-wide moratorium on commercial whaling.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation

This organisation was formed after the IWC moratorium so, unlike Greenpeace, does not claim to have influenced that decision. However, it has grown from a small group in Wiltshire, UK, to a world-wide organisation working to secure the protection of cetaceans and the environments they inhabit and migrate through.


As part of their work, they were a founding partner of the Bonn Convention, which is an international treaty to protect migratory aquatic and avian species. As well as campaigning to stop whaling where it is still undertaken (for example under the guise of ‘scientific research’ or simply illegally), the group is active in seeking to stop cetaceans being injured or killed as ‘bycatch’. This is where they are caught in the nets of commercial fishing boats. WDC also work with governments to toughen up laws and to ensure better monitoring of on-board nets during fishing trips.

The captivity of cetaceans for entertainment purposes is another area where the WDC have campaigned strongly. The organisation also monitors environmental threats to cetaceans; perhaps it could truly be called the ‘whales’ champion’.


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