Whales are well known for the layer of blubber (fat), which lies just beneath the surface of their thick, leathery skin. This layer of blubber keeps these warm-blooded animals warm, even in the iciest Arctic and Antarctic waters. Blubber also provides much-needed energy reserves for the months when the whales are particularly active, or need extra energy for calving.
This blubber and the meat of the whale are the main reason why whales have been and still are hunted: blubber is both eaten and turned into other products, although in more recent times the commercial demand for whale products has declined around the world as petrochemicals and plant-based oil products have been used to replace whale fat in a range of products.
Public outrage has also contributed greatly to the anti-whaling movement.
But before the introduction of petrochemicals whales were heavily hunted, in some species to the brink of extinction. Recognising the intrinsic and ecological value of whales, commercial whaling was banned in 1986 under the International Whaling Commission moratorium. However, this ban did not mean the end to whaling.
Several countries continue to whale for a variety of reasons:
Canada – Canada left the IWC in 1982 and as such is not bound by the moratorium on whaling. Nowadays, Canadian whaling is carried out by various Inuit groups around the country in small numbers and is managed by the Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
Caribbean – In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines on the island of Bequia the International Whaling Commission allows natives of the island to catch up to four Humpback Whales per year using traditional hunting methods and equipment.
Iceland – After several years of negotiations with the IWC, Iceland resumed scientific whaling in 2003, and resumed commercial whaling in 2006. The annual quota is set to 30 Minke Whales and nine Fin Whales.
Japan – As a signatory to the IWC moratorium Japan is unable to undertake commercial whaling. However, the moratorium does allow whaling for scientific purposes, a distinction that Japanese whalers have seized upon, with the stated purpose of their whale research program being to establish the size and dynamics of whale populations. Australia, Greenpeace, Sea Shepard and other groups dispute the Japanese claim of research “as a disguise for commercial whaling, which is banned”, claiming that: the research program is a front for commercial whaling; that the sample size is needlessly large; and, that equivalent information can be obtained by non-lethal means, for example by studying samples of whale tissue (such as skin) or whale poos.
Norway – Norway initially registered an objection to the International Whaling Commission moratorium, and is thus not bound by it. Prior to the moratorium, Norway caught around 2,000 Minkes (left) per year. Since 2006, when the Norwegian whaling quota was increased by 30%, Norwegian whalers have been allowed to hunt a quota of 1,052 Minke Whales a year. Since hunting resumed in 1993, the Norwegian quota has rarely been fully met.
What can you do to help our whales?
So while whaling continues in places around the globe, there are other threats to whales that should also be acknowledged. The other big threats to whales include entanglement in fishing gear, ship collisions, toxic contamination, oil and gas development programs, habitat degradation, and climate change.
We don’t mean to be gloomy, but being a whale doesn’t really seem like a good gig. Any which way they turn there is something to cause them some grief. There must be things that we humans can do to help, surely.
We’ve found out a few things that you can do to help:
To help save the whales in everyday life, keep our environment clean! Purchase biodegradable and chemical-free products that do not harm the environment, and support recycling efforts to keep harmful materials like plastic from entering the water supply.
Never discard used fishing line, nets and hooks in the water. This can entangle and kill birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, small whales, seals and otters.
Volunteer with local community groups to stencil storm drains, Adopt A Beach, or monitor the water quality of local watersheds. Organize your classroom, school club, or organization to clean litter from rivers, creeks, estuaries, and beaches.
Keep your car well maintained to prevent leaks onto roadways and driveways, which cause water pollution.