49th Annual General Meeting
Monte Carlo, Monaco

The 49th Annual Meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was held from 20-24 October 1997 in Monaco. The proceedings were conducted by the Chairman, Dr. Peter Bridgewater (Australia) and the Vice-Chairman, Mr Michael Canny (Ireland).

Catch limits for commercial whaling

In 1982 the Commission took a decision, which came into force from the 1986 and 1985/86 seasons, that catch limits for all commercial whaling would be set to zero. As in previous years, the Commission did not adopt a proposal by Japan for an interim relief allocation of 50 minke whales to be taken by coastal community-based whaling. Norway has lodged objections to the ban and has exercised its right to set national catch limits for its coastal whaling operations for minke whales. The Commission passed a Resolution calling on Norway to halt all whaling activities under its jurisdiction.

Revised Management Scheme

Although the Commission has accepted and endorsed the Revised Management Procedure for commercial whaling, it has noted that work on a number of issues, including specification of an inspection and observer system must be completed before the Commission will consider establishing catch limits other than zero. This work is ongoing. The Commission adopted Resolutions encouraging improved monitoring of whale product stockpiles, and the reporting and reduction of cetacean bycatches.

The Irish Commissioner introduced a proposal intended to break the deadlock between the governments opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling and those in favour. It would complete and adopt the Revised Management Scheme; designate a global sanctuary for whales; allow closely regulated and monitored coastal whaling within 200 mile zones by communities with a long tradition for such activity; but allow no international trade in whale products; and end scientific research catches. Reaching consensus on such a package of measures will not be easy, but Commissioners expressed their interest on continuing discussions, including bi-lateral contacts, and Mr. Canny will prepare a paper for discussion at the next Annual Meeting.

Catch limits for aboriginal subsistence whaling

This year the Commission agreed to catch limits for several stocks subject to aboriginal subsistence whaling:

  • Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock of bowhead whales (taken by Alaskan Eskimos and native peoples of Chukotka) - The total number of landed whales for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 shall not exceed 280 whales, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
  • Eastern North Pacific gray whales (taken by those whose "traditional, aboriginal and subsistence needs have been recognised") - A total catch of 620 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.
  • West Greenland fin whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual catch of 19 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002.
  • West Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - The annual number of whales struck for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002, shall not exceed 175 (up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
  • East Greenland minke whales (taken by Greenlanders) - An annual catch of 12 whales is allowed for the years 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002 (up to 3 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
  • Humpback whales (taken by St Vincent and The Grenadines) - for the seasons 1996/97 to 1998/99, the annual catch shall not exceed two whales.

The Scientific Committee continued its investigation of potential new management regimes for aboriginal subsistence whaling.

Scientific permit catches

Two proposed permits by Japan were considered. One is an extension of its continuing programme in the Southern Hemisphere (now 400±10% minke whales from the Antarctic). The second is for the continuing programme to take 100 minke whales in the western North Pacific. The issuance of such permits is a sovereign right under the Convention. The Commission adopted a Resolution calling on the Government of Japan to refrain from issuing these permits.

Humane killing of whales

The Commission this year considered information on the use of the electric lance as a secondary killing method, and killing methods used in aboriginal subsistence hunts. Japan announced that while it maintains the view that the electric lance is still an effective secondary killing method, it intends to use rifles as the principal secondary killing method from the next season.

The Commission adopted a Resolution on improving the humaness of aboriginal subsistence whaling, and agreed to hold a Workshop of Whale Killing Methods in 1999.

Small cetaceans

Notwithstanding the different views of member countries over the legal competence of the IWC to manage small cetaceans, the Contracting Governments continue to co-operate in consideration of small cetaceans, particularly with respect to the work of the Scientific Committee. The Commission passed a Resolution encouraging all members to undertake relevant research and continue to provide information to the Scientific Committee.

The environment and whale stocks

The Scientific Committee has examined this issue in the context of the Revised Management Procedure and agreed the RMP adequately addressed such concerns. However, it has noted that the most vulnerable species to such threats might well be those reduced to levels at which the RMP, even if applied, would result in zero catches. The Committee has held Workshops on the effects of chemical pollutants on cetaceans and on the effects of climate change and cetaceans. The Commission has endorsed the Committee's work on these issues and agreed to fund work to be carried out by the Scientific Committee in the coming year to take forward the recommendations of these Workshops and specifically to design multi-disciplinary and multinational research programmes in co-operation with other relevant organisations.


The Commission continues to address this issue. Last year it adopted general principles for the management of whalewatching and drew these to the attention of coastal states, and this year it took note of the educational value of whalewatching.

Southern Ocean

The Commission is providing financial support for two cruises in the Southern Hemisphere as part of the newly designated IWC-SOWER programme (Southern Ocean Whale and Ecosystem Research). One is aimed at providing information on blue whales and the other at providing information on minke, blue and other whales in the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. Japan is generously providing the vessels for these cruises. The Scientific Committee will continue to address matters relating to research in the Sanctuary.

The Commission has been invited to hold its 50th Annual Meeting in Muscat, Oman in May 1998.

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