Just as the Whale Watching industry in the South Peninsula of Cape Town is preparing for the new season,  so Japan, Iceland and Norway are gearing up to push through a proposal to re-instate commercial whaling.    The International Whaling Commission (IWC) has had a moratorium on commercial whaling for almost 25 years, since 1986.  However, Iceland and Norway have legal objections to the moratorium and continue to hunt whales, as has Japan which conducts commercial whaling using a loophole which allows whales to be killed for “scientific purposes.” 


Are some people’s traditions impacting negatively on our collective bio-diversity?  Every year the whaling nations have challenged the moratorium on whaling on the basis that it infringes on their traditional customs and a legitimate economic activity, from their cultural perspective.   Granted, the Japanese have a long historyof eating whale meat – but today this comes at a high cost to their health considering the contamination of whale and especially dolphin meat with heavy metals!  It would appear that the strong fishing and whaling lobby in Japan, which is emotionally grounded in Japanese maritime heritage is putting pressure on the authorities to protect their livelihoods.   The award winning documentary `The Cove’  demonstrated clearly the risk to consumers from eating Whale and Dolphin contaminated with mercury as well as the elaborate attempts to keep this information out of the public domain. 

The current practise of  hunting whales, in the Southern Oceans far from Japan, with modern factory ships is commercial rather than traditional?  Which explains why whale meat is turning up in sushi restaurants in the US.  The Icelanders are not consuming all their catch either but want a commercial license so that they can get revenue from exporting it?  

In recent times Japan, Norway and Iceland have been increasing pressure on the IWC to lift the ban.  They have  lobbied and paid a number of their economic partners to support their call for whaling to be legalised. In an effort to find a solution which would save the IWC and bring the illegal whaling under IWC’s control an awful   `compromise proposal’  to give Japan, Norway and Iceland legal commercial whaling quotas limited to the next 10 years will be tabled at the next annual meeting in Agadair, Morocco, June 21st – 25th

Playing devil’s advocate with the life of whales – the advantages of supporting the `compromise proposal’  assuming that agreements are honoured could include:

  • The survival of the IWC as a regulatory authority,
  • Better management of the quota system under independent IWC observers,
  • A commitment to more humane methods of killing whales,
  • Sharing the `scientific’ information collected from dead whales,
  • Dissemination of information to the public including the heavy metal content of whale meat and the health risks to humans,
  • Planned phasing out of whale hunting over the next 10 years.

 The negative implications of commercialising whaling include:

  • The quotas for commercial whaling are based on politics not science which sets a bad conservation management precedent ,
  • Commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary also sets a bad precedent implying that sanctuaries whether for whales or otherwise would no longer be sacrosanct,
  • Both fin whales and sei whales are listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered, yet they are included in the species for  commercial whaling – an indefensible situation which undermines IUCN protection of all endangered species,
  • How to legitimately exclude other nations from applying for commercial whaling quotas, especially as traditional fisheries decline in the future? 
  • How to ensure that all commercial whaling will in fact stop within 10 years?
  • How to ensure a reduction in the by-catch of whales and dolphins from other fisheries when Japan, Norway and Iceland may kill whales for commercial gain?
  • More toxic whale meat as well as dolphin meat, disguised as whale meat, will be eaten by uninformed consumers.


To those of us who live along the coast of Southern Africa, seeing wild whales and dolphins is a fairly frequent and always uplifting experience.   I for one will never accept the hunting of whales as legitimate.  Whatever the IWC decides I shall vote with my few rands and not knowingly buy any products from Japan, Norway and Iceland until they stop killing whales.  As long as it makes economic sense to hunt whales they are likely to continue doing so – unless there is an economic incentive TO STOP.  While you read this, I will be looking up what products to boycott.   (Help me on this one!  What does Iceland export other than volcanic ash and whale meat?)

You can also sign a global petition against whaling at : http://www.avaaz.org/en/whales_under_threat/ 

Read here about a  friendly encounter off Simonstown with three curious Brydes Whales,

KimK  May 2010