Commercial Whaling: Save the Whales

By David Zhang, David Shi, Alexina Ancheta

🌊 Introduction 🌊

Whales have roamed the Earth's oceans for 20 million years and they are one of the Earth's most fascinating animals; They are extremely intelligent, and their extraordinary communication skills allow them to socialize with each other. Research says whales have social lives like us! They have complex relationships with one another, tight-knit social groups, and even regional dialects.

Furthermore, whales play a vital role in the ecosystem and have major impacts on the environment; they help provide at least 50% of the oxygen we breathe, combat climate change, and sustain fish stocks by simply providing nutrients to phytoplankton in the form of poop. When whales die, they become a phenomenon known as "whale fall." Where their carcasses sink to the seabed and create a mini-ecosystem by delivering a large quantity of food source enough for the deep-sea organisms to consume for years.

Even though whales are highly intelligent and have vital contributions to the ecosystem, humans keep on exploiting them and killing them for the sole purpose of making money. In this presentation, we will be talking about commercial whaling in details and what we can do to save the whales.

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Aerial view of a mother blue whale and its calf . Photograph by Erica Page

Commercial Whaling Over the World 🚢 ❗

Commercial whaling was banned in 1986 under the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) moratorium. However, Norway, Japan, and Iceland continue to hunt whales every year. In 1987, just a year after the whaling ban, over 1500 whales were killed by those three countries.

All three countries claim to have the right to hunt whales and have their own reasons for it. Japan claims to only hunt for research purposes; Iceland claims they only made a so-called ‘reservation’ to the whaling ban, which thereby has no effect regarding its whaling activities; Norway objected to the ban and claims its whaling is 'sustainable'.


Japan has been hunting whales for centuries, possibly even as far back as the Jomon period (10,000–300 BC). However, the large industrial scale whaling is relatively new. During the post WWII era, the animal protein was in short supply so the Japanese turned to whales. At the time, whale meat made up 46% of total meat consumption.

On 26 December 2018, the Japanese government announced its withdrawal from the IWC in order to resume commercial whaling in Japanese seas. Fast Forward to 2021, Japanese whalers will set sail to hunt 171 minke whales, 187 Bryde's whales and 25 sei whales.


Iceland had been continuing a small “scientific whaling” since the ban and have slaughtered more than 1,700 whales including fin, minke and sei whales.

In 2019, the Icelandic government allocated a quota of 209 fin whales and 217 minke whales to be hunted each year until 2023. However, in June that year, Iceland's largest fin whaling company, Hvalur hf, announced that they would not be carrying out any whaling and all whalers stayed in port. In April 2020, Hvalur hf. Reported that they would not be hunting fin whales due to the pandemic. Around the same time, the director of Icelandic minke whaling company, IP-Utgerd, announced that it was no longer profitable to hunt for minke whales in Icelandic waters and the whaling will be ceased for good.


Norway was not happy to lose its lucrative market due to the IWC’s moratorium. They were one of the few governments to register a formal ‘objection,’ meaning they are not bound by the moratorium.

Until today, Norway hunts minke whales under a self-allocated quota, which was 1,278 for the 2021 season. Even though they did not reach the goal, they still killed 575 minke whales in 2021 and most of them are pregnant females.

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We can see the number of whales killed each year reduced significantly thanks to IWC's moratorium. However, this number has been increasing in recent years and it is quite intriguing to see 'scientific whaling' come into play right after the commercial whaling ban. Furthermore, in the second graph, we can see the number of whales hunted for “scientific research” has increased exponentially after the ban.

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Why Whaling? 

Indeed there are thousands of other species of marine animals as well as terrestrial animals that could serve as food and provide for the needs of the people. However, whales have or provide something special which cannot be found elsewhere. Let’s discuss a few of them.

Sperm Oil

  • Sperm Oil or body oil is a waxy, clear, yellowish liquid. Its special features include lubricating qualities which can be used to create quick and light machines. It also illuminates without producing smoke and foul odor. It has been widely used to light up homes as well as in soap bars.


  • Spermaceti is a liquid wax found at the head of a bottlenose whale. It crystallizes when it comes in contact with air. It has been the most valuable product used by the Yankees as it has a high melting point and it burns without foul odor. It has been used to create the best quality candles, ointments, and cosmetics.

Whale Oil

  • Whale oil varies in different shades of brown depending on the age of the whale’s blubber. It was used in factories and in the manufacturing industry.


  • Baleen whales have baleen instead of teeth which are used to catch and eat prey. It is made up of keratin and is used to make poles and materials for which plastic or steel would now be used.


  • Ambergris is a waxy substance found in the intestines of whales. Together with pearls, it is one of the highest-selling products and its value can reach up to $10,000 per pound. It is used in medicines and perfumes.
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😨 How Are Whales Hunted? 😰

In the Atlantic Ocean, a majestic minke whale comes up for air. As she breaches the surface, an explosive crack sounds, and then a thud as the harpoon slams into her head, penetrating half a metre deep. As the defenceless whale tries to pull away, terrified and in agony, the grenade inside the harpoon explodes, blasting shrapnel into her body. If she is lucky, she dies quickly, but often it takes up to an hour or more. This awful scenario is repeated in all the oceans of the world where whales are hunted. It has to stop.

  • From the late 1850s on, harpoon guns supplemented the harpooner’s strong throwing arm.
  • In 1865, an explosive harpoon was introduced that simultaneously fastened to the whale and hit it with two small explosive projectiles.
  • Bomb lances, which contained a gunpowder charge and time fuse that triggered an explosion deep within the whale’s body, were shot at the whale from a bomb lance gun.

Darting guns combined a harpoon and bomb lance at the end of a single pole. As the harpoon was driven into the whale, a rod-like trigger was released and discharged a bomb lance.


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A Norwegian whaler shooting an explosive harpoon at a minke whale. Photography by Danny Groves, WDC

Whaling Through The Years

Over time, the need for whales increased. Whaling has spread to other parts of the world such as different parts of Europe and America. The whale supply was depleting, but the demand was exponentially increasing as more and more people used them. During the mid-1700s, whales became difficult to find in the Atlantic Coast. Whale hunters turned to other oceans to hopefully keep up with the demands of the people.

By the mid-1800s, whaling had reached its peak. Newer technologies such as gun-loaded harpoons and steamships were modified and improved. The American whaling fleet dispersed hundreds of ships to the South Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

In the 1900s, whaling became a multi-million dollar industry as it was supplied to most parts of the world.

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Mother and calf Minke whales being dragged aboard a Japanese whaling ship under the surveillance of Australian customs agents in 2008. Photograph: Customs and Border Protection Service, Commonwealth of Australia /Creative Commons

The time came when the number of available whales could not keep up with the demand for whales anymore. Several countries made a joint effort to conserve whales by forming the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Its mission was to create whale hunting regulations to prevent the over hunting of whales. In the 1970s, the United States of America listed eight whale species as endangered, and whaling was outlawed in 1971. As a result, people were forced to find different sources to supply for their needs. Thankfully, kerosene, petroleum, and other fossil fuels were discovered. The hunt for whales has decreased since then, but there are still a lot of whale hunters out there.

The IWC called for a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, but Japan and Norway did not cooperate. Norway continues to hunt whales for meat, while Japan hunts whales for scientific purposes which are eventually eaten. Iceland began “scientific whaling” in 2003 before it resumed commercial whaling in 2006. Japan has killed 8,201 minke whales and Iceland with 6,879 kills. These numbers seem huge, but these numbers are nothing compared to those prior to the establishment of the moratorium. Other reasons for continued whale hunt include tribe traditions and those who live in remote areas by the sea. It is estimated that over 40,000 large whales have been killed since 1986. This number does not include the smaller whales and the numbers are still increasing.


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A freshly killed minke whale been dragged onto a Norwegian whalerPhotograph: John Cunningham/AFP/Getty Images

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A minke whale being unloaded at a Japanese port. Kazuhiro Nogi/Agence France-Presse

The moratorium may not have prevented the hunting of whales, but it has had a lot of positive outcomes. According to Dave Weller, a research biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla California, the population of the eastern Pacific Gray Whales has increased. The organization has been providing education and reports so that people may be more aware and cautious of their actions regarding whales.

Throughout the following years, other organizations followed through. Campaigns and awareness events on whaling have spread. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) seeks to promote whale conservation and has been actively involved in whale management internationally.

Whaling may not be a major concern like COVID-19, but it should not be overlooked. Whales are at the top of the food chains and food webs. They are interconnected with other marine animals, and they depend on one another for survival. Each animal has the right to develop, strive, and reproduce. Removing the whales from their ecosystem has a major effect on other animals, the environment, and even us people. We may not notice this as the impact begins deep in the ocean. We have to do our part now in order because our actions and decisions make a difference in future generations. We have to act before it’s too late. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. There’s no turning back and there is nothing we can do to animals that have gone extinct. The good news is that there is still hope. There are still some whales out there which we can protect and save so that they can grow and flourish. As a citizen of this world, let us not take things for granted. Let’s do our part and help make the world a better place for all.

Whale Conservation Efforts 💖

  • The Ocean Conservancy in Washington D.C. was founded in 1972. It educates the public and advocates for policy changes to help conserve marine ecosystems. One of its efforts include the International Coastal Cleanup Programme which has recruited million volunteers over the past 30 years to clean up beaches across the world.
  • Greenpeace is one of the most successful organizations that promotes the marine environment and protects everything within it. They connect with other major companies and organizations in a joint effort to save the marine oceans. The organization is also engaged in other concerns relating to climate change, ocean acidification, and plastic recycling among others.
  • The Surfrider Foundation based in California is dedicated to protecting the oceans and beaches throughout the world. Among their projects include volunteers testing water quality to ensure that it is safe for marine animals and an Ocean Friendly Gardens Program which creates landscapes to prevent runoff from reaching the ocean.
  • Oceana is based in Washington as well and is committed to save oceans thrOceana is based in Washington as well and is committed to save oceans through campaigns. Its efforts include efforts to limit major sources of ocean pollution such as mercury and oil. It also protects vulnerable oceans and their surroundings.
  • The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is known for its panda logo and its efforts to protect endangered species and their habitat. Their efforts to protect important feeding and breeding areas and migration routes of whales are critical on whale conservation.
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How Can We Help? 💪

Many people believe that there are little things we can do when trying to stop whaling. What can some ordinary people do to stop whaling? There are actually many ways people can help. Those include writing a letter, spreading awareness, and joining organizations.

You can take action to stop whaling by writing a letter to your government. In the United States if you are a U.S. citizen you can write a letter to your government representative. In the letter you can state the current issue going on with whaling and how you wish the government to help. The government can pass laws that will stop whaling. For example in 2014 at the U.N convention, Japan was demanded to stop whaling in Antarctica.

In our society today, social media is the major platform where people can spread awareness on current issues. There are multiple social media pages where they address the issue of whaling. You can help spread those pages and bring awareness very easily. For example, on Instagram you can repost other people’s posts. Awareness is the key to solving environmental issues. We have to inform and make people realize the issue in order for them to start to make a change.

Get Involved 💪

We have just discussed a few of the organizations that protect whales, marine ecosystems and the environment. Now, it’s our turn to do our part. Whether big or small, each of us can help save the whales! Small efforts put together have major impacts.

Here are a few tips to get started:

  1. Learn more about how to save whales by attending events and joining campaigns.
  2. Volunteer in an organization and apply what you’ve learned in your community.
  3. Create online posts and flyers, and spread your message to others throughout the world.
  4. Check the product before using/eating. Avoid eating food that contains whale meat. Avoid purchasing products that contain whale oil, skin, or other body parts. Find an alternative source.
  5. Play Nemo-Net, and help NASA classify coral reefs by painting 3D and 2D images of coral.
  6. Keep curious. Take a stroll around your area and observe what you see. You’ll be amazed by the things that have always been there but you’ve never noticed before.
  7. Ask! In parks, museums, camps, or anywhere you have the chance, ask other people about the different things you see. This is a great way to learn while also forming global connections.


We Are All Whalers: The Plight of Whales and Our Responsibility💭

As Michael More said, “We are all whalers.” Even if we are not the ones out at sea, riding a boat, and throwing a lance at a whale, we are all still whalers.

We do not have to be a marine scientist, marine biologist, oceanographer, or environmentalist to help save our animals, friends and the environment. We do not even have to step out of our homes to take action. There are a million different ways to help. Taking part in the mission to help make the world a better place has no limits. It is not exclusive to a particular age, gender, status, religion, race, ethnicity, culture, background, or belief. This is all for the better good of society.

Over the past decades, there may have been a drastic biodiversity loss. You may think that one small act such as reusing a plastic bag in the supermarket, throwing a candy wrapper in the garbage bin, or switching off the lights when not in use won’t make a difference. It may be nothing compared to the destruction happening throughout the world, but it is a fact that one small act can make a difference. If we all gather together and do even just one small act each day, these will accumulate and lead to positive and great impacts in the future. We have been destroying our planet over the past decades, and we now see the unfortunate difference. These did not just happen magically on their own. Every action has its consequences: positive or negative. We are the ones responsible for the actions we make. If we will gradually help our planet recover throughout the next years and decades, a satisfying outcome will await us.

The animals and our environment have not done anything bad to us. They do not eat us. We eat them. They do not torture and kill us. We torture and kill them. They do not disturb our homes and ruin our habitat. We destroy and pollute their homes. They have provided untold benefits for us. It is now time to pay it forward and give back to them.

The future generations depend on our actions. How will they be able to enjoy life? What will they breathe? Where will they live? What will they eat and drink? Let us not be selfish. Let us set a good example to the future generations so that they may do the same.

When we are sick, we have doctors and hospitals to care for us. How about Earth? Our planet is knocking at our hearts to answer its call for help.

As the saying goes, “Be part of the solution, not the pollution.” We caused the problem. We should solve it.

As a take away, we would like you to reflect on how you can be a more responsible citizen.

It is not too late to make a difference if we all begin now!

If you are interested, we recommend you to read the book “We Are All Whalers: The Plight of Whales and Our Responsibility” by Michael More: available in both E-Books and Print Books.

You can also check out online articles, videos, documentaries, games, and activities to get started.



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