International Environmental Agreements and Whaling: Saving Whales

At the start of the twenty first century, with no pressing human need for whale meat or other products, and most whale populations still reeling from the apocalyptic exploitation that led to a global ban on commercial hunting, why is this issue still dividing nations? This month the International Whaling Commission meets in London to finalise details of a possible resumption of commercial whaling, but the implications extend far beyond whales to the international horse-trading behind other environmental agreements.

The World Today
5 minute READ

Sue Fisher

Solicitor and Campaigns Manager, Whale and Dolphin Conversation Society (WDCS)

Since man first came across a dead whale on a beach, humans have utilised cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – for their meat; oil – originally blubber was rendered for heating and lighting and later for margarine and as a lubricant; teeth; ambergris – a stomach secretion used as a perfume fixative; and baleen – plates in the mouths of filter feeding whales used most famously to stiffen corsets.

The defining characteristics of the industry were established as long ago as 1000 AD when the Basque people first began a methodical hunt of whales from ships in the Bay of Biscay. Pursuing local populations of slow moving coastal species, they soon depleted right whales and moved on to new grounds and new species.

This tradition of systematic eradication continued as commercial whaling expanded over the next few centuries, revolutionised by the development of on-board processing, the invention of the exploding harpoon and steam-powered vessels.

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