A concise history of whaling

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

A concise history of whaling

An issue close to many conservationists hearts, and currently something of a “hot topic”….whaling. 

Hi there,

It’s Laura again, here to welcome you into July…the 4th month of our 2018 Wildlife Officer season. This week saw the arrival of our first Wildlife Officer Placement, Alex, who is getting on splendidly, but I’ll leave it to her fill you in on her experiences net week.

Now usually my blog posts are a little light-hearted, I’ve talked about orcas and porpoises and even joked about the lack of whales we’ve been seeing recently; but this week I wanted to use my platform to talk about an issue close to many conservationists hearts, and currently something of a “hot topic” (www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/18/iceland-sets-target-of-191-kills-as-country-resumes-whaling)….whaling. 

Whaling is described as the deliberate hunting of whales for both their consumable products (meat, oil, and blubber), and for scientific research purposes. The actual practice of whaling appears to date back to pre-historic times (3000BC), where it was initially confined to coastal and near-coastal communities. However, at the beginning of the 20th century with the emergence of newer technologies and the increased demand for whale products, the commercial exploitation of whales began in earnest. By the late 1930s it was estimated that over 50,000 whales were being harvested annually; effectively decimating numerous whale populations across the world (in particular fin whales, North-Atlantic right whales, sei whales).

As our whales are top predators within the marine ecosystem, their continued presence in our world is vital for maintaining healthy food web dynamics. Therefore, armed with this knowledge, and an awareness that the whale populations were in decline, the International Whaling commission (IWC) introduced a moratorium on whaling in 1986, effectively banning commercial whaling on a global scale. Most of the former whaling nations in the world were in agreement with this moratorium, however whaling practices still persist in some locations. In 1987, Japan launched a scientific whaling program, permitting the harvest of set numbers of Bryde’s, sei, sperm, and minke whales in Antarctic and North Pacific regions. In 1993, Norway recommenced commercial whaling activities for the North-Atlantic minke whale. And in 2006, whaling practices where resumed by Iceland, who primarily harvest minke and fin whales to meet the demands of the tourism industry.

Despite these few countries persisting with whaling practices, the general global adoption of the moratorium is thought to have been largely successful at helping many whale species stabilise their populations. The humpback whale in particular is thought to be a great example of a success story, however other species, such as the northern right whale and the fin whale are still struggling. Perhaps if those remaining commercial whaling nations ceased their activities, we might see an overall improvement across all our cetacean species.

That’s it basically, I just wanted to give you a bit of an overview into such a topical subject at the moment.

Hopefully, by the time I get around to writing my next blog I’ll be able to dazzle you with tales of fantastic cetacean sightings once again. But until then good luck to Heather and Alex. Bye!


ORCA have been monitoring cetaceans including fin and minke whales for nearly two decades to help identify and create safer places for cetaceans.  ORCA is vehemently opposed to any form of commercial whaling and works with the UK Wildlife Countryside Link, a group of like minded NGOs to end this outdated and barbaric exploitation of marine mammals.