Whaling

Whales are intelligent gentle giants and have inspired awe throughout the ages. Yet accidental strikes from shipping, plastic pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, and commercial whaling threaten our whales - risking a future in which they are just a memory.

Our goal is to create global sanctuaries that give our whales shelter, reform fisheries to tackle bycatch and give our whales a chance to recover from decades of whaling.

AMCS also calls on strong international pressure to protect whales from commercial whaling by Japan, Norway and Iceland.

A Dark History of Whaling

Whales are magnificent, leviathan creatures. The sight of a whale tail rising from the sea is simply unforgettable. Highly social, whales navigate via sonar and communicate via song.

Sadly, many whale species were hunted to  the brink of extinction because of decades of unregulated whaling from a variety of countries. The depletion of whale species led to a global movement calling on a whaling ban.   

In 1982, the world’s nations banded together to stop commercial whaling by voting for a moratorium at the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Australia and AMCS were part of this movement. This global whaling ban came into effect in 1986.

Challenges After the Global Whaling Moratorium

Darren Kindleysides at IWC 2018

Our CEO Darren Kindleysides at IWC 2018

Despite a successful vote at the IWC for a global whaling moratorium in 1982, deep divides between pro-whaling nations like Japan, Iceland and Norway and anti-whaling countries like Australia, the UK and Brazil, continued to challenge the IWC. 

These tensions resulted in attempts by pro-whaling countries to bring back commercial whaling. 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.

Defying the moratorium, countries continued industrial whaling under “reservations” or under the pretence of ”‘scientific whaling”.

The government of Japan defied the IWC global whaling ban by exploiting a loophole to kill whales under the guise of conducting research for years. Since the moratorium, more than 15,000 whales have since been hunted and killed by Japan in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters. 

AMCS has worked to close this loophole. At its 2016 IWC meeting, Australia led a landmark resolution approved by the 88 nations of the IWC, which narrows the loophole that allows nations to kill whales for scientific research. Although the IWC has tightened this loophole, it still remains.

However, anti-whaling campaigns and legal challenges against Japan continued and subsequently, Japan was not able lift the ban on whaling – a success for the anti-whaling agenda. Finally, the government of Japan turned their back on global efforts to conserve whales and on the 26th of December, 2018, announced their departure from the IWC. 

This was a significant moment because on one hand, it meant Japan’s whaling fleet won’t return to the Southern Ocean. On the other, it meant Japan would restart commercial whaling in their own waters where some of the most threatened minke whale populations live. 

Norway and Iceland continue to whale in Northern Hemisphere waters. However, in 2019 Iceland did not hunt for any whales because of a decrease in demand for whale meat. 

Other threats to whales

As global whale populations slowly recover from decades of whaling, they face other threats such as: 

  • climate change 
  • entanglement in fishing nets 
  • plastic pollution 
  • underwater noise and
  • ship strikes

Solutions to threats and whaling

We know that sanctuaries save lives, protecting critical habitats and providing safe spaces for vulnerable whales to breed and mature. 

Australia has been a global leader in whale conservation since the Fraser government banned whaling in 1979. We now need to rise again, demand new whale sanctuaries and better conservation measures, and step up and challenge the Japanese government over its needless, inhumane and illegal Southern Ocean slaughter.

With the government of Japan set to resume commercial whaling in its own waters, and both Iceland and Norway continuing commercial whaling in the Northern Hemisphere, it is time for anti-whaling governments to once again take a stand for the world’s whales.

What we've achieved

On the 26th of December, 2018, Japan announced their departure from the IWC, meaning that it would also withdraw its whaling fleet from the Southern Ocean.

The significance of Japan leaving the Southern Ocean is huge: it would be the first time that there would be no whaling in our Southern Oceans since the second world war - with the exception of a one year pause in 2014 after Japan lost the whaling case in the International Court of Justice.

After decades of anti-whaling campaigning, the AMCS community and Australians can celebrate the end of whaling in our Southern Oceans - it is a win for our whales!

For years, Japan’s government claimed that its Antarctic whaling program is for ‘scientific purposes’, but in truth it was lethal commercial whaling in disguise. Australia took Japan to court in 2013, and the International Court of Justice issued a binding ruling in March 2014 that their Antarctic whaling program broke international law and had to immediately stop.

The verdict was a giant leap forward for whales, science and humanity — and Japan advised that it would comply with the ruling. Japan did not whale in 2014. However, and disappointingly, the respite for the Southern Ocean’s whales didn’t last long. Japan started a brand new program of lethal ‘research’ whaling in the Southern Ocean in December 2015.

The momentous decision to take legal action took years of hard work campaigning behind the scenes, from AMCS and other conservation groups working with governments, lawyers and scientists to convince our leaders to take this case forward.

We now call on Australia to once again step up and take legal action against Japan’s whaling in its territorial waters.

AMCS helped spearhead a global campaign in the 1980s that led to the world’s first global ban on commercial whaling.

In 1982 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) decided put a hold on commercial whaling of all whale species and populations from 1986 onwards — a ban that remains in place today, despite Japan’s domestic commercial whaling

Thanks to the passion of whale lovers everywhere, tens of thousands of majestic whales are alive today and for generations to come.

With the government of Japan resuming commercial whaling in its own waters, and both Iceland and Norway continuing commercial whaling in the Northern Hemisphere, it is time for anti-whaling governments to once again take a stand for the world’s whales.

What’s Next?

Australians want their government to step up again as the defender of the world’s whales as Japan restarts commercial whale hunting for the first time in 31 years. 

Whaling is a dying industry – it is an outdated and cruel industry selling a product to a market that has all but disappeared.

Japan’s whaling is out of step with the international community, and legal opinion shows it’s also out of step with international law.

AMCS and the International Fund for Animal Welfare have released a legal opinion from an international law expert showing Japan’s commercial whaling opens the country to legal action.

Now Australians are looking to our government to step up again to defend whales and, now, to also defend the principles of international law

Together with whale lovers across Australia, we continue the fight to protect our intelligent, gentle giants from whaling and other threats. 

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