Whaling Timeline


Commercial whaling begins using sailing ships and hand-thrown harpoons. Serial depletion of whale stocks begins in the Northern Hemisphere, targeting mainly the slower Right, Sperm, and Humpback whales.
1600 – 1850:
Depletion of North Atlantic Right Whales
late 1700s – mid 1800s:
Depletion of Pacific and Southern Hemisphere Right Whales
early 1600s – 1900:
Depletion of Arctic Right Whales
1700 – late 1800s:
Depletion of Atlantic and Pacific Sperm Whales
1750 – 1900:
Depletion of Humpback Whales
Introduction of diesel engines, fast catcher boats, and exploding-tipped harpoon cannons allows fast-swimming rorqual whales to be targeted for the first time. Serial depletion of species follows in an even shorter time scale than before, beginning with the largest and most profitable species to hunt.
1900 – 1915:
Peak of 20th century Humpback Whale kill (hunt lasting 1900 – 1962)
Whaling nations adopt Blue Whale Unit (bwu) quota, encouraging hunting of larger species. This economic-based quota benefited only the whalers, and gave no consideration to the biology or population size (ie. decline) of different whale species.
1925 – 1935:
Peak of 20th century Blue Whale kill (hunt lasting 1910 – 1962)
1935 – 1940:
Peak of 20th century Fin Whale kill (hunt lasting 1910 – 1975)
World War II begins. Whales earn a temporary reprieve from the slaughter.
World War II ends. Whaling resumes in earnest – fuelled by post-war industrial boom, new technology, and surplus ships and equipment.
1945 – 1960:
Second peak of 20th century Fin Whale kill (hunt lasting 1910 – 1975)
IWC (International Whaling Commission) formed to regulate whaling and maintain whale stocks.
Antarctic “whaling Olympics” race to kill whales begins, fuelled by bwu quota system and limited hunting season.
             IWC sets first species quota for Humpbacks.
1949 – 1952:
Whaling nations exceed humpback quota. IWC lacks enforcement.
1962 – 1967:
Peak of 20th century Sei Whale kill (hunt lasting 1910 – 1975)
1960s – 1980s:
Massive illegal and unreported whale kill, estimated at over 90,000 whales (including over 46,000 Humpbacks killed by the Soviets alone (while reporting only 8,000) – representing the entire recovery population of that species).
Scientific committee recommends halting Blue and Humpback whaling, and abolishing bwu quota.
             IWC sets quota of 10,000 bwu instead.
Scientific Committee recommends species quotas for Fin and Sei whales to preserve stocks.
             IWC cannot agree on quotas so no limit set.
Whaling nations informally set quota of 8,000 bwu (deliberately targeting Fin and Sei whales since Blues virtually commercially extinct already).
IWC establishes complete protection for Blue whales.
Pirate whalers continue to kill Blue whales, selling to the Japanese markets. IWC lacks enforcement.
1965 – 1970:
IWC continues to reduce Fin and Sei whale quotas as stocks decline.
1972 – 1980:
Peak of 20th century Minke Whale kill (hunt lasting 1965 – present)
1970 – 1980:
Composition of the IWC changes, becoming more conservation-minded. Many ex-whaling nations rejoin the IWC as conservation nations.
IWC finally abolishes bwu quota system.
UN resolution calls for 10 year whaling moratorium – rejected by IWC.
1979 – 1981:
IWC again rejects moratorium proposals.
Under pressure from conservation nations, IWC finally votes to implement Moratorium on commercial whaling.
Japan, Norway, Iceland, Peru, and USSR object so are not bound by it.
Peru withdraws its objection to the moratorium and stops whaling.
Moratorium on whaling supposed to take effect.
Japan continues hunting as before, now under the loophole of ‘scientific’ research. Iceland and Korea follow suit.
Soviet whaling finally ceases, followed by Korea.
1987 – 2005:
Japan continually tries to overturn the moratorium, repeatedly requesting the IWC set quotas and calling for a vote to allow a return to commercial hunting.
Every year Japan loses the vote as the IWC votes to uphold the moratorium.
Norway officially ends commercial whaling, but continues the hunt with a limited “scientific whaling” catch.
Iceland ends its ‘scientific’ whaling program amid concerns its main purpose is to export meat to Japan. Nevertheless, exports continue for another 3 years.
Iceland leaves the IWC.
Norway resumes commercial whaling in defiance of the IWC Moratorium (claiming that since it objected it is not bound by the rules).
Japan updates its pelagic whaling fleet with the launch of new whaling ships – making its intentions plain to the world!
Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary created by IWC (the vote is unanimous – except for Japan).
Japan ignores the sanctuary and continues its kill under the guise of ‘scientific’ research.
Japan expands its ‘scientific’ whaling programme to also include an annual kill of whales in the North Pacific Ocean.
late 1990s – present:
Japan bribes many small countries to vote with it at the IWC, seeking to overturn the Moratorium on commercial whaling by any means it can.
In addition to Minke whales, Bryde’s whales now hunted by Japan, along with Sperm whales.
Iceland rejoins the IWC, lodging an immediate objection to the moratorium on commercial whaling (despite the fact it had originally agreed to it in 1986), claiming it is also not bound by the rules.
Iceland resumes whaling under the guise of ‘scientific’ whaling, despite the programme having the same aims as its 1986-89 ‘research’ programme – of which no results were ever published.
Japan manages to buy enough votes at the IWC to win the vote declaring a ban on whaling is no longer necessary, and accusing whales of eating “huge quantities of fish”.
Japan announces another expansion of its ‘scientific’ whaling programme, including an increased catch of Minke whales plus endangered Fin, Sei, and Humpback whales.
Iceland announces a return to full-scale commercial hunting.
In addition to Minke, Bryde’s and Sperm whales, Hunt of endangered Fin, Sei, and Humpback whales begins again.
Japan carries out its expanded ‘scientific’ whaling programme, despite wide international condemnation.

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