Question & Answer


Q1How many species of whales are there in the world?

There are about 80 species of whales in the world.Below are the population estimates of some whale species provided by the IWC at present.

Name Distribution Population
Minke whales Southern Hemisphere 515,000
  North Atlantic - Northeastern 81,000
  North Atlantic - Central 40,000
  North Atlantic - West Greenland 17,000
  North West Pacific and Okhotsk Sea 25,000
Blue whales(excluding pygmy blue) Southern Hemisphere 2,300
Fin whales North Atlantic - East Greenland to Faroes 22,000
  North Atlantic - West Greenland 4,500
Gray whales North Pacific - Eastern 19,000
  North Pacific - Western 121
Bowhead whales North Pacific - Bering-Chukchi- Beaufort Seas stock 11,800
  West Greenland feeding area 1,750
Humpback whales Soutern Hemisphere - Partial coverage of Antarctic feeding grounds 42,000
  Soutern Hemisphere - Eastern South America 6,200
  Soutern Hemisphere - Western South America 2,900
  Soutern Hemisphere - Western Australia 29,000
  Soutern Hemisphere - Western Africa 9,800
  Soutern Hemisphere - Eastern Africa breeding stock(s) 14,000
North Atlantic - Western North Atlantic 11,600
  North Atlantic - West Greenland 3,000
  North Pacific 22,000
  Arabian Sea 80
Right whales Southern Hemisphere 12,000
  North Atlantic 490
Bryde's whales >North Pacific - Western 21,000
Pilot Whales Central & Eastern North Atlantic 780,000

Q2Aren't all whales endangered?

No whales have ever been hunted to extinction, nor are they likely to be. Out of all of the 80 species, only a limited number traditionally have been hunted, such as blue whales, fin whales, minke whales, humpback whales, sperm whales and gray whales.

When whales were over-hunted, species such as blue whales and right whales were reduced to very low population levels, but these species now have been fully protected for decades.

Japan strongly believes that they should continue to be protected.
On the other hand, there are species which are abundant enough that marine management is needed, such as the Antarctic and northwestern Pacific minke whales, northwestern Pacific Bryde's whales, and northwestern Pacific Sei whales.

Q3Aren't whales supposed to have a high level of intelligence?

Those who assert that the whale has a higher intelligence base their assertion on the large size of a whale's brain. It is simply natural for a whale which has large head to have a larger brain than those of other animals, but that does not necessarily mean that it has higher intelligence.

In comparing the size of animal brains, we should take into consideration not only its weight but also its proportion to the body weight. The proportion of a blue whale's brain to its body weight is 0.007% on the average, as compared with 1.93% for human beings.

The harbor porpoise has the highest proportion of 0.85% among cetaceans. Does that mean that the intelligence of a harbor porpoise is half the level of a human being and that of a blue whale is one hundredth of a harbor porpoise's? It is not necessarily so. It is not possible to determine the intelligence level with the brain's proportion to the body weight.

The late Dr. E.J. Slijper, who was a world authority on cetaceans, said " seems improbable that an animal which propels itself mainly with its tail should need a more highly developed brain than, for instance, a monkey which uses all its limbs so skillfully." On a similar note, Dr. Margaret Klinowska, a professor of Cambridge University and a member of the Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, said that "In most species of cetaceans, the brain is neither very large nor especially complex," adding that "whales betray little evidence of behavioral complexity beyond that of a herd of cows or deer."


Q1If whaling is allowed again, what's to guarantee that over-exploitation won't occur again?

Over-exploitation could not happen again because of the stronger regulations and checks and balances that would accompany any reintroduction.

The International Whaling Commission would control whaling if it were allowed again, just as it controls the bans now.

Importantly the reason that many countries were involved in whaling previously was for whale byproducts, such as oil and bone, in contrast to countries and communities like Japan, Norway, the native American Indians and many island nations that whaled for food.

Q2Is whaling still occurring today, even though there is a global ban?

There are three types of whaling being carried out:

Aboriginal subsistence whaling

The International Whaling Commission authorizes this whaling. The IWC now authorizes catches under its aboriginal subsistence whaling scheme for:

  1. Bowhead whales in Alaska(US) and Chukotka(Russia).
  2. Gray whales in Washington(US) and Chukotka(Russia).
  3. Fin whales and Minke whales in Greenland (Denmark).
  4. Humpback whales in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

However, Japan's tradition of whaling is not recognised by the IWC.

Small-type whaling outside of the IWC's jurisdiction

Catches of small cetaceans including Baird's beaked whales, Pilot whales and Dall's porpoises occur within Japanese coastal waters. These catches are outside the International Whaling Commission's jurisdiction. The Government of Japan strictly regulates these operations. Small cetaceans caught either in directed fisheries or incidentally in other fisheries are used for human consumption in many countries around the world.

Whaling by non-IWC member countries

Catches by non-IWC members include bowhead whales in Canada, sperm whales in Indonesia and Bryde's whales, sei whales and minke whales in Japan. These countries are not bound by the IWC regulations, as they are not members.

Q3The whaling debate has shifted from scientific discussion to arguments on animal rights as perceived by certain countries and groups. Since most Western nations are opposed to whaling, why doesn't Japan just abandon its tradition?

We cannot agree with this view. Asking Japan to abandon this part of its culture would compare to Australians being asked to stop eating meat pies, Americans being asked to stop eating hamburgers and the English being asked to go without fish and chips.

Attitudes toward animals are a part of national cultures. No nations should try to impose their attitudes on others.

Anti-whaling countries regard whales as sacred, and want the ban on whaling to continue on the grounds that a humane killing method is not ensured or that whaling itself is unethical.

But it is questionable whether the whaling conducted by westerners in the past was humane or ethical. To this argument, the westerners might respond that was the very reason for them to have halted whaling.

But this argument is nothing but a misconception. Whaling in western countries was conducted to collect whale oil, whether it was ancient sailing-boat-type whaling or modern whaling. It died out naturally as it lost its industrial importance after petroleum became more readily available.

On the other hand, whaling in Japan was mainly carried out for the production of meat, and because of strong demand for whalemeat in the domestic market, whaling can still continue to be viable.

Not all western countries are anti-whaling although anti-whaling attitudes are prevalent. Generally Anglo-Saxon countries take an anti-whaling position, but Iceland, Norway and Denmark regard whales as food.

International Whaling Commission

Q1Why was the International Whaling Commission established?

The International Whaling Commission was established by the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The IWC's objective is: "to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry." However, the IWC is now ignoring an important element of its objective - the orderly development of the industry.

The IWC is now controlled by a majority anti-whaling group backed up by anti-whaling non-governmental organizations, which has lead to various stringent regulations against whaling, one after another, which caused the IWC to deviate from its original objectives.

The most conspicuous example of the violation of the Convention was the adoption of a commercial whaling moratorium in 1982. The Convention requires that all conservation measures shall be based on scientific findings, and the IWC Scientific Committee has never recommended a moratorium in the past.

The moratorium was achieved by anti-whaling groups like Greenpeace recruiting into the IWC many countries that had nothing to do with whaling, thus giving the anti-whaling forces the majority they needed.

The blatant disregard of the objectives and provisions of the 1946 Convention is not only in violation of the Convention but also violates the Vienna Convention on interpretation of Treaties, which requires "good faith" implementation of international treaties.

Q2How many countries are members of the International Whaling Commission?

The IWC was established in 1948 under the ICRW concluded in 1946.

Initially it started with 15 whaling nations but began to give a stronger emphasis to conservation of whales since the 1960s when the Netherlands and the United Kingdom stopped whaling after their whaling industry was no longer profitable because of over-exploitation of whales.

From the latter half of the 1970s, new members seeking solely to ban whaling joined the commission, resulting in the passage of a commercial whaling moratorium in 1982 by their majority vote.

The present IWC membership is 88 nations. Among them, the number of countries supporting whaling tends to increase in these days.

Anglo-Saxon countries, like the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and the United States have a hard-line policy against whaling.

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