Study Calls for End to Ban on Commercial Whale Hunting

A study published in the journal Science in January called for an end to the 19-year-old ban on commercial whaling.

The International Whaling Commission asked biologists Leah Gerber of Arizona State University, David Hyrenbach of Duke University, and Mark Zacharias of the University of Victoria to determine whether or not existing whale sanctuaries would be adequate to protect whales if commercial hunting resumed. The three received no funding from any entity for the study, however.

The study looked specifically at the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, which is one of two sanctuaries created by the International Whaling Commission.

The argument the three make in their paper is this: significant numbers of whales in the sanctuaries are already killed under provisions allowing nations to kill whales for scientific study. Moreover, if commercial whaling is not restored, nations could end up taking more whales for scientific purposes than would be ideal for managing the whale population.

The study argues for ending scientific permits and replacing it with a tightly controlled system of commercial whaling that would ban hunting during certain times of the year, such as when whales are breeding. The scientific permit system currently in place has no such restrictions.

Zacharias was quoted by the Canadian Press as saying that the sanctuaries are political rather than scientific in nature and are less than ideal given the reality of ongoing hunting for scientific purposes,

The moratorium has really done its purpose. It has allowed a lot of stock to recover. However, the problem now is that most of the world and the public believe there is no commercial and aboriginal whaling going on, but whaling under scientific permit is continuing and is continuing in the sanctuary.

. . .

We full expect to take a lot of heat for this . . . People are going to say, ‘You’re suggesting that we’re resume global whaling?’ Yes, we are suggesting that, but it’s better than the alternative, which is pretending it doesn’t happen.

I imagine, however, that Zacharias and his fellow researchers will be very popular in Japan.

It will be interesting to see what, if any, this report has on the next IWC meeting when Japan and other nations again attempt to end the commercial whaling moratorium.


Replace ban on whaling, study urges. Steve MacLeod, Canadian Press, January 28, 2005.

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