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Whales and dolphins

The tail of a large whale

Whale populations have not recovered from overexploitation of the past and face other serious threats such as pollution, habitat degradation, and climate change.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) places a moratorium on commercial whaling other than limited whaling operations by indigenous people for subsistence purposes. Under the guise of scientific research, Japan continues to kill whales, exploiting a loophole in the IWC moratorium. Iceland and Norway, having lodged objections to the moratorium, continue commercial whaling.

Whaling is unacceptably cruel. Many coastal communities, including those in developing countries, can profit from tourist income generated by a well-regulated whale watching industry. The current and future benefits from whale watching far exceed those from killing whales. The Government wants the IWC to work towards the greater conservation of whales.

Latest news

The UK government lobbied hard at the annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco from 21-25 June 2010 to ensure the long-term conservation of whales. At the meeting, the UK, together with other members of the EU, took a strong, pro-conservation position and resisted a proposal which would have effectively legitimised a resumption of commercial whaling.

Marine Environment Minister Richard Benyon said ‘the UK has lobbied hard to ensure that the EU maintains a strong pro-conservation position in Agadir. We are extremely pleased that the EU has held firm against a resumption of commercial whaling. We will continue to resist any move to weaken the moratorium and work towards the greater protection of whales worldwide’.

Key facts and figures

  • Most species of great whale are still listed as threatened or endangered on the IUCN list.
  • The southern hemisphere population of blue whales – the largest animal ever to have lived on earth – has fallen from 240,000 a century ago to 1,700 now. The population of humpback whales, famous for their ‘songs’, has plummeted from 115,000 to 25,000. There are only about 30 female western gray whales capable of breeding left and other species have such low populations that they too are endangered.
  • Japan kills whales for scientific research and Norway and Iceland both carry out commercial whaling operations – killing about 2000 whales a year.
  • Over 28 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) have been observed in UK waters. All whales, dolphins and porpoises are fully protected in UK and EU waters.

The current situation and background

The UK supports the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling. We oppose all forms of whaling other than aboriginal subsistence whaling. We believe that whale watching is the only truly sustainable use of whales and dolphins.

The 62nd annual meeting of the IWC took place on 21-25 June 2010. 88 countries (including 25 EU Member States) considered a proposal effectively legitimising whaling for Japan, Iceland and Norway for a ten year period, in return for some fairly anodyne promises of greater global conservation.

An EU position was agreed opposing the proposal and supporting the phasing down and ultimate banning of current commercial whaling operations and an end to the loop-hole of ‘special permit’ whaling (lethal research carried out by Japan).

At the IWC meeting the EU resisted the proposal which ultimately failed to find consensus, and was dropped, with no vote taken.

Iceland’s whaling is incompatible with its EU aspirations. We are urging Iceland to align with EU position.

We are continuing our work to protect whales but we must maintain effort, to ensure that moratorium on commercial whaling is not undermined and that any agreement on reform of the IWC will guarantee a significant reduction in the number of whales currently killed.

Relevant legislation and regulations

“to ensure an effective international regulatory framework for the conservation and management of whales guaranteeing a significant improvement in the conservation status of whales in the long term and bringing all whaling operations under IWC control.”

Key publications and documents

Page last modified: 19 October 2010