Whaling (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Humans have hunted whales for thousands of years. Whales have provided meat, oil (used for lighting and as an industrial lubricant), and ambergris (used in the manufacture of perfume). Blubber was converted into soap, baleen was fashioned into objects such as stays for women’s corsets, whale-tooth ivory was carved and scrimshawed, and whale bones were ground into fertilizer. The abundant uses that humans made of whales quickly led to overhunting of certain species. Bowheads were increasingly scarce by the late seventeenth century, and the Atlantic gray whale was hunted to extinction sometime during the early eighteenth century. One hundred years later, the U.S. whaling industry went into decline as the sperm whale became increasingly difficult to find.
The advent of new technologies during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries hastened the decline of whale populations on a global scale. As steam and diesel engines replaced sails, ships gained the speed necessary to pursue faster species of whale. Harpoons fired from cannons were tipped with grenades that exploded on contact, immediately killing the whale and ending the era of epic struggles often depicted in art and literature. With the exception of right whales, all whales sink when dead, so engineers crafted inflation devices to float the carcasses. Factory ships introduced during the 1920’s allowed fleets to process the whales at sea. Each of these developments increased the...
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The Moratorium (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
In 1982 the IWC voted to impose a commercial whaling moratorium, which went into force in 1986. The first year or so after the IWC imposed the moratorium, the Soviet Union, Norway, Iceland, and Japan lodged objections and persisted in their commercial hunting. Norway continued commercial hunting through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, when it was joined by Iceland. Additional, permitted whale harvesting has occurred since 1986 in the form of aboriginal subsistence whaling, which native populations in Greenland, Russia, the United States, Canada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have carried out. Every year, aboriginal subsistence whaling kills a few hundred whales worldwide.
During the moratorium Norway, Iceland, and especially Japan (where whale meat is part of the nation’s traditional diet) have harvested still more whales under special permits that allow whaling for scientific purposes. Through scientific whaling, researchers claim to gain an understanding of the roles that whales play in ecosystems, the factors that affect natural whale mortality, how environmental changes affect whales, and how humans can improve whale management efforts. Whether scientific whaling programs are actually scientific means for assessing whale stocks or veiled commercial whaling efforts is a matter of intense, ongoing controversy.
By the mid-1990’s several nations, including Japan and Norway, were arguing that...
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Obstacles to Recovery (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Many scientists fear that some whale species will never recover and will eventually become extinct. The pressing issue regarding the survival of most species of whale is that of biodiversity. With the small populations existing, species such as the blue whale might lack the genetic diversity to respond to environmental changes. Present populations might persist and even grow but may be unable to survive any significant alterations in the environment. Concerns about biodiversity are linked to the fact that the whales’ habitat, the world’s oceans, is an increasingly inhospitable and even dangerous place. Like land animals, whales suffer the consequences of habitat loss and human encroachment. They are injured when struck by ships or entangled in abandoned fishing equipment. Global climate change, sound and chemical pollution, and declines in fish populations also affect whales. Minute tissue samples collected through nonlethal means from almost one thousand free-ranging sperm whales between 2000 and 2005 were found to contain astonishingly high levels of heavy metals. Whales that have washed ashore on Canada’s Gulf of St. Lawrence have been found to be so loaded with chemicals that their carcasses have been designated as toxic waste.
In June, 2010, during the sixty-second IWC meeting, member nations considered suspending the commercial hunting ban and implementing limited whaling in its place. The rationale for such...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Environmental Issues, Revised Edition)
Dolin, Eric Jay. Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007.
Ellis, Richard. Men and Whales. 1991. Reprint. New York: Lyons Press, 1999.
Estes, James A., et al., eds. Whales, Whaling, and Ocean Ecosystems. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
Friedheim, Robert L., ed. Toward a Sustainable Whaling Regime. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001.
Heazle, Michael. Scientific Uncertainty and the Politics of Whaling. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006.
Hoare, Philip. The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea. New York: Ecco, 2010.
Kalland, Arne. Unveiling the Whale: Discourses on Whales and Whaling. New York: Berghahn Books, 2009.
Mulvaney, Kieran. The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2003.
Stoett, Peter J. The International Politics of Whaling. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1997.
Tønnessen, J. N., and A. O. Johnsen. The History of Modern Whaling. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
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Whaling (West's Encyclopedia of American Law)
The hunting of whales for food, oil, or both.
The hunting of whales by Eskimos and Native Americans began around 100 A.D. in North America. In Europe the systematic hunting of whales began during the Middle Ages and greatly expanded in the seventeenth century. Whaling was driven by the desire to procure whale oil and sperm oil. Whale oil comes from baleen whales and is an edible product that was used in the making of margarine and cooking oil. Sperm oil, which comes from sperm whales, was used for illuminating lamps, as an industrial lubricant, and as a component of soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes.
During the nineteenth century, the U.S. whaling fleet dominated the world industry. Most of the seven hundred U.S. ships sailed out of New Bedford and Nantucket, Massachusetts. However, the industry went into a steep decline with the discovery and exploitation of petroleum during the late nineteenth century. Though new uses for sperm oil were developed, the U.S. fleet gradually disappeared.
In the early twentieth century, concerns were raised about the dwindling whale population. An international movement to regulate the hunting of whales met resistance from Scandinavian countries and Japan, but in 1931 the LEAGUE OF NATIONS convened a Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. It proved unsuccessful because several important whaling states refused to...
(The entire section is 412 words.)