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Frequently Asked Questions

What is whaling?
Whaling is the hunting of whales for their meat and other products. The main types of whaling conducted today are commercial whaling, aboriginal subsistence whaling and scientific whaling (also known as special permit whaling).

What is a whale?
A whale is a marine mammal – a warm-blooded air-breathing animal that gives birth to live young - and is part of the cetacean family. There are over 80 species of cetaceans – the collective term for whales, dolphins and porpoises.

When did it begin?
Whaling dates back to the 9th century, when in the Bay of Biscay, Spain, the first recorded large-scale whaling took place. Commercial whaling only began in the late 19th Century and the first factory whaling ship did not enter service until 1925.

Is whaling banned?
Under the authority of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), a moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed in 1982 and took effect in 1986.

What is the IWC?
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the body responsible for the management of whaling and its main purpose is to regulate the whaling industry. Established in 1946, in 2008 it has over 79 member countries.

How many whales were killed in the last century?
Over two million whales were killed in the 20th Century.

Does whaling still take place?
Yes, some 28,000 great whales have been killed since the ban came into force in 1986. Having lodged an official objection to the moratorium, Norway continues to conduct commercial whaling. Japan continue to kill whales for ‘research’. Iceland killed 200 minke whales between 2003 and 2007 for ‘scientific’ purposes, and issued a commercial quota of 39 whales – including nine fin whales, the second largest animal on the planet – in October 2006. In 2008 Iceland is set to kill 40 minke whales in it’s commercial hunts.

Four countries (USA, Greenland, Russia and St Vincent and the Grenadines) conduct aboriginal subsistence whaling. In addition, the Faroe Islands continue to kill pilot whales and other species, but Denmark argues that these islands are not covered by the Convention. Whaling also occurs outside the IWC’s control by countries not party to the ICRW, including Canada. Japan and Norway have repeatedly announced their long-term intention of continuing whaling and resuming commercial trade in whale products. Tens of thousands of small whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed annually worldwide in hunting activities not regulated by the IWC.

Is there a need for lethal ‘scientific’ whaling?
No, there is no valid research need for lethal ‘scientific’ whaling programmes. The IWC has, and continues to, condemn these programmes as unnecessary and has called on Japan to desist in 15 separate Resolutions over the last 20 years. The real purpose for such whaling is commercial, not scientific, and the meat from these programmes is sold commercially for human consumption.

How are whales killed?
The most common whale killing method is by the penthrite grenade harpoon which is designed to detonate inside the whale’s body. It creates a large wound, at least 20 cm wide, which triples in size when the harpoon’s barbs hook into the whale’s body. Despite the power of the explosive harpoon, a rifle is often required as a secondary killing method used to ‘finish off’ whales that do not die instantaneously.

How difficult is it to kill a whale quickly and cleanly?
Given the constantly moving environment in which whales live and are hunted and the sheer size and body mass of whales, it is impossible to guarantee a quick clean kill. The difficulties in hitting a whale with any degree of accuracy can be seen in the margin for human error and the impact of prevailing weather conditions. For instance Norway reported that one in five whales (20%) failed to die instantaneously during 2002, whilst Japan reported that the majority of whales, almost 60%, failed to die instantaneously in 2002/3.

How long does a whale take to die?
According to the whaling nations’ data the average time to death is 2-3 minutes, although some whales have been reported as taking up to an hour and a half to die.

How can you tell when a whale is really dead?
Whales can naturally reduce their metabolism, blood flow to non-essential organs, and breathing rates as adaptations to extended dives. This physiological adaptation makes an accurate assessment of death in whales difficult. The current criteria used by whalers to determine the point of death in a whale are judged by the IWC, as well as many eminent scientists and veterinarians, to be inadequate. It is possible that whales may in fact still be alive long after having been recorded as being dead.

What happens to the meat from the whale?
The meat from all whaling operations is used for human consumption. Comparisons with humane slaughter practices for livestock animals can therefore be used in assessing the welfare implications of whaling activities. Such comparisons demonstrate that, due to the inherent difficulties in guaranteeing an instantaneous death and the potential impacts of pursuit, the welfare standards in whaling operations are far inferior to those standards adopted to protect the welfare of farmed animals.

What other threats do whales face?
A raft of poorly understood and un-quantified environmental threats including: pollution, entanglement in fishing nets, climate change, global over-fishing, collisions with ships, and habitat loss.

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