REPORT from the 49th IWC Meeting

IWC Fails to Stop Increased Whale Kills

Report from WWF, 29 October, 1997

MONACO: This year's International Whaling Commission meeting which ended here October 24 revealed more evidence that the IWC has lost control of whaling, warned WWF.

A significant initiative * put forward by Ireland aimed at resolving the deadlock between whalers and non-whalers received a mixed reception. The Irish Commissioner was authorisized by the meeting to pursue the initiative and develop proposals for the next meeting in Oman.

Japan and Norway are set once again to defy resolutions passed by the majority of countries by maintaining and possibly increasing the number of whales caught by exploiting loopholes in the IWC. In what has become an annual ritual, these resolutions were passed and immediately rejected, highlighting the growing ineffectiveness of the IWC.

"As the IWC faces its 50th anniversary in 1998, it must take active steps to regain control over the whalers," said Cassandra Phillips, WWF's whale coordinator. "The only casualty of the stalemate are the whales. A new spirit of dialogue is vital to explore a more positive way forward."

Japan's 10th consecutive bid to secure a new quota of 50 minke whales for its coastal communities failed but support for the proposal was stronger than in previous years.

Another alarming development was Japan's request to establish a procedure to vote by secret ballot. WWF fears this proposal poses a serious threat to whale conservation and is disappointed that a decision on the issue was deferred and not rejected immediately.

WWF is also concerned at the growing number of whales being taken for aboriginal subsistence purposes and the ambiguous criteria and scientific basis on which they are awarded. Denmark secured an additional quota of 20 minke whales from highly depleted stocks for the Greenland Inuits, bringing their total minke quota to 187, in addition to 19 fin whales also from a depleted stock.

In a confusing and controversial decision, the IWC approved the US request for an annual quota of up to five grey whales for the Makah tribe of Washington State, who have not whaled for more than 70 years. This request was submitted as a joint proposal with the Russian Federation for an annual quota of up to 140 grey whales. Many countries argued that the Makah had not established their case for a genuine subsistence need, an issue which may yet be challenged in the US courts.

A second US/Russian Federation proposal secured approval to catch up to 56 threatened bowhead whales a year for the Alaskan Inuits and Russian Chukotka people. This is an increase on previous years, when the average number of whales caught was 51.

"When the 50th IWC meets in Oman next May, it must address the growing challenges it faces or continue to see the number of whales killed each year rise," warned Cassandra Phillips.

For further information, please call Lucy Farmer in Monaco on 0468 867275 or Someshwar Singh on 0041 79 2000063.


  1. This year Norway killed 503 minke whale under their objection to the Moratorium on commercial whaling and Japan a total of 540 whales for "scientific" purposes, making a total of 1,043 whales. The number of whales killed by Norway and Japan outside of the IWC's control has grown steadily each year from a total of 383 in 1992 to over one thousand today.
  2. * At this year's IWC meeting, Irish Commissioner Michael Canny, outlined his ideas to extract the IWC from its current deadlock and bring whaling back under the control of the IWC. His proposals were to:
    • Complete and adopt the Revised Management Scheme, the system under which any future whaling would be regulated. Mr Canny said he hoped precautionary measures would include DNA testing, inspectors on all flensing boats and satellite tracking of whaling vessels.
    • Limit the application of the RMS to coastal whaling only, effectively ending all whaling on the high seas, with only current whaling nations eligible to receive quotas.
    • Ensure that whale quotas are issued for local consumption only, thereby preventing any international trade in whale products.
    • Phase out lethal scientific whaling (as currently conducted by Japan in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary and North Pacific).
    • Draw up guidelines for whale watching to minimise disturbance.
    These proposals look set to be refined and presented in detail in Oman.
  3. The IWC has already agreed the Revised Management Procedure, the formula to be used for the setting of any future catch limits, but has not adopted it into the Schedule. Roughly, the RMP would allow a 1 per cent quota from known population estimates. The Revised Management Scheme has not yet been agreed.

Back to MENU

Whales in Danger Information Service