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Debate: Whaling

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Revision as of 16:27, 19 September 2007

Should the international ban on the hunting of whales be lifted?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

The hunting of whales by man is probably thousands of years old, but it became an important industry in the nineteenth century, when increased industrialisation and urbanisation created a demand for the lighting oil which could be produced from whale blubber. The meat of the animal and other parts of whales were used as well, but it was the demand for oil that drove the industry. With the development of petroleum oil in the late nineteenth century the industry declined, but whaling for meat and other products continued and modern technology was introduced to make hunting more efficient. The increasing scarcity of many whale species, together with growing recognition of the intelligence and social nature of whales, led to calls for regulation of whale catches and the creation of the International Whaling Commission. The IWC introduced a ban on whale hunting in 1982, effective from 1986, since when whale stocks appear to have recovered, although the extent of this is controversial. Some whaling continues for research purposes, mostly by Japan, which has been widely criticised for taking hundreds more whales than can be justified by the needs of scientific inquiry. Recently Japan and Norway have led demands from some countries for the lifting of the ban and the resumption of some whaling under regulation. This is widely opposed by most of the other members of the IWC and by a range of (mostly western) pressure groups.[1]

Just animals? - Are whales like any other animal, making it ok to hunt them?


Whales should be treated in the same way as other animals, as a resource to be used for food and other products. No species should be hunted to extinction, but if their numbers are healthy, then there is nothing wrong with hunting whales. Studies of intelligence have been conducted on dolphins, rather than whales, and even these cannot measure intelligence in any useful way. Although people in some western societies view whales as special and therefore in particular need of protection compared to other animals, this view is not widely shared by other societies and to impose it upon others is simply a form of cultural imperialism.[2]


Whales are special: Many people believe that no animal should suffer and die for the benefit of humans, but even if you don’t hold a vegetarian view, whales should be treated as a special case. Whales are not like other animals as they are exceptionally intelligent and social beings, able to communicate fluently with each other (and perhaps, to a limited extent, with humans). It is morally wrong to hunt and kill species which appear to share many social and intellectual abilities with us.[3]

Threatened species? - Are whales no longer a threatened species, making it possible to hunt them?


Whale numbers have been revived, opening the opportunity for whaling under sound regulation: Whale numbers are healthy, particularly for minke whales which number over a million, and a resumption of hunting, under regulation, will not adversely affect their survival. The IWC ban was imposed to protect whale numbers, not for moral reasons, and as numbers have now greatly increased, it has served its original purpose and it is time to lift it.[4]


We should adhere to a precautionary principle: It is impossible to be certain about whale numbers, but it is likely they are nowhere near as healthy as pro-whalers suggest. Until the international ban on hunting whales was agreed in 1982 (imposed in 1986), several species were driven close to extinction. This could easily happen again if the ban was lifted, especially as regulation of what happens at sea is inherently difficult. Even if hunting was restricted to the more numerous species of whale, other, less common species may be killed by mistake.[5]

Cultural preservation - Should whaling be allowed in order to preserve the various cultural practices surrounding it?


Whale hunting is an important aspect of some people’s cultural heritage. This is true of a number of different coastal groups, including Faroese islanders of the North Atlantic, the Makah people of Washington state in the USA, and the Bequia people of St Vincent and the Grenadines. For some groups the hunting of a small number of whales each year is both an important feature in the local subsistence economy and a way of reconnecting themselves with the traditions of their ancestors and affirming their group identity against the onslaught of globalisation.[6]


Traditional hunting methods are often particularly cruel, involving driving whales to beach themselves and then killing them slowly with long knives, or singling out vulnerable nursing mothers with calves. As only small numbers are taken with relatively primitive equipment, the hunters do not develop enough skill or possess the technology to achieve clean and quick kills, so unnecessary suffering is inevitable. And what if the whales these groups wish to hunt are from the most endangered species, should they be allowed to go ahead simply because of their “cultural heritage”? In any case, there are many traditional practices (e.g. slavery, female circumcision) which have been outlawed as abhorrent in modern society.[7]

Economics - Do economic factors favor the resumption of commercial whaling?


Economic factors favor the resumption of whaling. In both Japan and Norway remote coastal communities have depended upon whaling as one of the few activities to guarantee them a livelihood. Both countries have an investment in ships, research, processing centres, etc. which would be wasted if the temporary whaling ban was extended indefinitely.[8]

Whales are predators that deplete fish stock upon which fishing industries depend: Whales as predators do damage to fish stocks on which many people depend for protein, and upon which many people in the fishing industry depend for their livelihood. A cull of whales is needed to help reduce the decline in fish stocks.[9]


Whale watching is now a major industry that justifies the protection of whales: Whale watching trips for tourists now generate a billion dollars a year, more income worldwide than the whaling industry did prior to the hunting ban. This industry and the jobs it creates in remote coastal areas would be jeopardised if whale numbers fell, or if these intelligent animals became much more wary around human activity.[10]

The decline in fish stocks is due to overfishing by man, not to the activities of whales, many of which eat only plankton. Before large-scale whaling began there were plenty of fish in the oceans. Indeed some whales eat the larger fish which themselves prey upon the species that are commercially important to man, a whale cull might have the perverse effect of further reducing these valuable fish stocks.[11]

Humane? - Is whaling a humane practice?


Modern whaling is humane relative to other animal food processing methods: Whaling is humane, especially when compared to the factory farming of animals like chickens, cow and pigs, (themselves a relatively intelligent and social species). Most whales do die instantly or very quickly and research in Japan’s scientific whaling programme has enabled the introduction of new, more powerful harpoons that will make kills even more certain.[12]


Whaling is inherently cruel. Before the whale is harpooned it is usually exhausted by a long and stressful chase. As a moving target, it is difficult for a marksman to achieve a direct hit on a whale with an explosive-tipped harpoon, so many are wounded and survive for many minutes before finally being killed by rifle shots or by additional harpoons. Even when a direct hit is scored, the explosive often fails to detonate. Overall Japanese whaling ships report that only 70% of whales are killed instantly by the first shot.[13]


  • This House would allow whaling to resume
  • This House would harvest the bounty of the sea
  • This House would save the whale



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