Media Release Threatened Species

On the 40th anniversary of the signing of the commercial whaling moratorium, why modern whale conservation must be about more than just managing whaling

July 22, 2022

Ensuring a future for the blue planet’s majestic whale populations must go beyond managing whaling and also tackle climate change, plastic pollution, vessel strikes and poor fishing practices, the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS) says.

On the 40th anniversary of the signing of the commercial whaling moratorium by members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) this Saturday (23 July), Australia’s leading ocean conservation advocacy group is backing calls by the IWC for a modernised and expanded approach to whale conservation across the next 50 years.

AMCS Fisheries and Threatened Species campaign manager Alexia Wellbelove said while whale species are still recovering from the intense commercial whaling of the last century, progress is being hampered by threats that the world must work together on tackling.

“The moratorium on whaling was the catalyst for whale recovery 40 years on. For the sake of these magnificent and iconic species and their long term conservation, it is essential that countries take these threats seriously, collaborate and fund increased whale conservation efforts into the future, so our children and grandchildren can continue to see and benefit from healthy whale populations,” she said.

The next meeting of the IWC in Slovenia in October will be especially important. This will be the first in-person event since 2018, and importantly the first since Japan left the IWC in 2019 so that it could recommence commercial whaling.

“It comes at a particularly critical juncture for the IWC with international funding restraints threatening the Commission’s future and therefore that of the global moratorium,” added Ms Wellbelove.

“Not only is Japan committed to overturning it, but Norway and Iceland object to it and continue to hunt commercially for whales, even though whaling is an outdated, cruel and dying industry.

“At the meeting, we hope to see a renewed and expanded commitment to tackling whale conservation issues by the 88 member countries of the IWC. For example, much more can be done about the estimated 300,000 cetaceans that are killed annually as bycatch in fisheries around the world.

“We need to build on the incredible benefit the moratorium on whaling has brought to many whale populations around the world, including in Australian waters where the humpback whale population has recovered from just 1,500 individuals at the height of commercial whaling, to a recently estimated population of 40,000.

“Research is continuing to build our knowledge of cetaceans, and their importance to the health of our oceans. These species are ecological engineers and sentinels of ocean health. Seeing them thrive in the wild is a wonderful, profound experience. But they are threatened by a myriad of issues that we should be working together to tackle.”


Australia’s Fraser government banned whaling in 1979.

Australia was one of the nations that voted for a moratorium on whaling at the IWC in 1982. The agreement was fundamental in allowing global whale populations to recover from whaling.

The global whaling ban came into effect in 1986. However, there remains deep divides between pro-whaling countries like Japan, Iceland and Norway and anti-whaling countries like Australia, the UK and Brazil.

In 2010, the IWC reached crisis point and the meeting came perilously close to approving a return to commercial whaling. AMCS was part of the international negotiations that fought off the disastrous compromise at the eleventh hour.