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Photo © Greenpeace / Jeff Pantukhoff.
School children in Baja, Mexico send a powerful message before an IWC meeting.

Trading Regulation

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of Wild Fauna and Flora regulates the export and import of endangered plants and animals between countries. All species covered under this treaty fit under one of three categories: Appendix I, Appendix II, and Appendix III (CITES, 2007a). Appendix I includes species threatened by extinction; export and import permits are required. Appendix II includes species in which trade must be strictly controlled to prevent overexploitation; only export permits are required for this group. Appendix III includes species that are protected by at least one country which has asked for assistance regarding trade; export permits and certificates of origin are required for such species. Cetacean species under Appendix I include the bowhead whale, right whale, humpback whale, roqual whale, grey whale, pygmy right whale, sperm whale, beaked whales, bottle-nosed whales, dolphins, river dolphins, and porpoises (CITES, 2007b). All other species of whales are listed under Appendix II.

Problems with the Whaling Situation

Commercial Whaling

The International Whaling Commission, established to protect whale stocks, sets criteria for any activity involving the hunting of whales. Objections to any decision made by the IWC may be raised, provided it is done within ninety days of notification of the decision, in which case other countries will have further time to object (IWC, 2007b). Both Norway and Iceland currently continue with their commercial whaling industries under claims that the decision to set zero catch limits adversely affects respective national interests and thus does not apply. However, such objections were not made until years after the decision was made by the IWC; therefore, legal issues exist regarding this violation of the moratorium.

However, studies commissioned by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) have shown that demand for whale meat is very minimal in Iceland and Norway (IFAW, 2007). Thus there should be no reason to continue commercial whaling.

Scientific Whaling

Despite the zero catch limit set by the IWC, individual nations can still issue scientific permits that allow the lethal hunting of whales for research purposes. The right to issue such licenses is under the control of each nation and overrides all other IWC regulations, including the moratorium and sanctuaries (IWC, 2007c). Currently, only Japan, Iceland, and Norway are utilizing this right to kill whales for scientific research. Accusations have been made by several third-party organizations that these permits have been used as a loophole in the IWC moratorium and that the whales caught during such research are being killed primarily for commercial use. Japan has denied such claims.


A Grey Whale bleeding from shotgun wounds as it is hunted.

Subsistence Whaling

Several aboriginal communities that depend on whale meat for nutrition have been allowed to hunt whales, with catch limits set by the IWC (IWC, 2007a). An Aboriginal Whaling Scheme, established by the IWC, will be established and will comprise the scientific and logistical aspects of the management of all aboriginal fisheries.