Whaling: A Narrow Vision of the Future

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Last updated: February 20, 2019

Whaling is a controversial issue today.

Thousands of scientists and ecological organisations argue for an international ban on whaling and view such a ban as the only way to restore whale populations in global marine ecosystems. Thousands of others are confident that an international ban on whaling will not benefit animals: the decreasing number of whales is the reflection of the natural processes which no ban can stop. The history of whaling dates back thousands years ago.

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People hunted whales as long as they had boats and could sail. Today, whaling has become a convenient object of speculations and no one has been able to justify the need for an international ban so far. Objectively, there should be no international ban on whaling because whaling benefits economies and medical research, and legalisation of whaling will facilitate monitoring and managing the number of whales hunted and killed for commercial purposes.Whaling: A Brief InsightWhaling is a controversial issue today.

Thousands of ecological and animal rights organisations argue that an international ban on whaling is necessary to give whales a chance to restore their populations. The estimated number of Blue Whales today is less than 3500; in 1931 alone, almost 30,000 Blue Whales were killed for commercial purposes.[1] The current population of Blue Whales represents less than 1% of the total number of whales killed between 1910 and 1969.[2] However, it was not before 1966 that an official moratorium on commercial whaling was provided, to afford a good beginning on the long journey to recovery.

[3]Whaling dates back to the times when humans started to build boats – thousands of years ago, whaling was one of the most widely used forms of hunting.[4] For thousands of years, whales had served excellent sources of food, wax, and oil.[5] Hunters valued them even more for their size and the quantity of various resources they could provide at once.[6] Only by the middle of the 1870s did whale oil products give place to oil products based on petroleum and since then, whales have been mostly used for meat.[7] Today, Japan and Norway are considered as the biggest threat to whales – these countries, plus Iceland, seek to lift the ban on whaling by all possible means.

[8] More importantly, these countries continue hunting whales despite the moratorium on whaling brought in in 1986.[9] Norway is hunting whales in the North Atlantic; American Eskimos and Russian northern aboriginals are allowed to hunt whales in small quantities to meet their needs for food.[10] Japan actively engages in whaling, to pursue the needs and goals of medical research.[11] Notwithstanding the potential benefits of the ban on whaling, this ban is likely to cause serious economic difficulties. Today, no international ban on whaling should exist, because whaling is associated with significant economic benefits, because whales serve the needs of medical research and, finally, because legal whaling will facilitate monitoring the number of whales hunted and killed for commercial purposes.An International Ban on Whaling: The Benefits of LegalisationThat whaling is the source of both direct and indirect economic benefits is difficult to deny, and there should be no international ban on whaling, to let different countries meet their economic needs. The inner markets for whale products are too small to support the countries like Norway and Iceland. The latter continue hunting whales, according to the quotas that had been set by the International Whaling Commission.

[12] Japan and Norway fail to meet their sales targets and lose significant financial resources due to the small quotas and the lack of hunting opportunities. In 2008 alone, Japan lost more than $20 million “whaling” dollars, which could have been directed to support various economic social programmes; in the similar fashion, Norway is experiencing difficulties with its whale product markets.[13] Given the difficult economic situation, whaling could become an excellent opportunity for countries like Norway and Japan to generate additional jobs and to use whale products as an extremely valuable export item. Before the moratorium on whaling in 1986, the share of whale products in Norwegian exports accounted for 2 percent of all marine products and, simultaneously, for more than 70 percent of the total merchandise products on average.[14] There should be no international ban on whaling, because it limits economic opportunities of sea countries and does not give them a chance to improve their economic situation.

Whaling is the source of numerous indirect advantages. Indirect benefits of whaling arise from the link between commercial whaling, the size of natural whale populations, and the size of fish stocks.[15] Because whales are the largest consumers of fish stock in the North Atlantic, they threaten the stability of numerous other fish stocks, including krill and cod.[16] Although the relationships between whales and other fish populations are increasingly complex, scientists assume that whale stocks around Iceland could lead to the 10 percent decline in other fish stocks, including cod stocks.[17] Given that the annual sustainable yield of the cod stock is no less than 350 thousand tons, a ban on whaling could cost Iceland 35 thousand tons of cod stock every year – a number too significant for a small country like Iceland.[18]There should be no international ban on whaling, based on the premise that whales were and remain an important object of medical research. Whales are equally important for human and animal research, and it would be fair to say that an international ban on whaling will significantly reduce the existing medical research opportunities. As a result, an international ban on whaling will wane the hopes of those who seek a cure for the most difficult diseases.

Since the middle of the 20th century, whales had been hunted and used for their hypophyses.[19] The number of whale hypophyses dropped with time and their popularity declined, but they made a profound contribution to the development of medical research and pharmacology.[20] Whales’ pancreases were extensively used in the production of insulin.[21] Whales used to be an effective source of growth hormones for people; the hormones were extracted from whales’ thymus glands.

[22] Today, the world must think twice before an international ban on whaling becomes a reality. The world must avoid banning whaling activity in the future, to give medical researchers sufficient opportunities to pursue their research goals. Although the topic of animal research is increasingly controversial, it is not within the scope of this paper to discuss the pros and cons of such research. Simultaneously, it is clear that despite all limitations, researchers will continue to apply to the benefits of animal research, to enhance the efficiency of their research operations.

In the current state of medical knowledge, whales present a valuable opportunity to help people with complex diagnoses. In general terms, any ban on whaling is likely to result in significant negative changes and serious losses, both economic and scientific. Nevertheless, ecological and animal rights organisations continue asserting that such a ban is necessary to restore the number of whales in natural marine ecosystems.

Whaling and Nature: A Never Ending Debate?That whale populations decline and need a chance to restore their number is the central argument ecological organisations use to support the need on an international ban on whaling. Needless to say, whale populations do decline but whether whaling is the direct cause of ecological problems is difficult to define. The current state of research provides compelling evidence that the decline in the number of living whales is natural, and no ban can change it.[23] The argument in favor of an international ban on whaling exemplifies a recurrent conflict between perception and rhetoric, and while more and more scientists vote for an international ban on whaling, even more scientists and organisations come to recognise the irrelevance of such a ban.The fact is in that scientists lack scientific evidence to prove that whale populations, including Atlantic humpbacks, can rebound sufficiently due to an international ban on whaling.

[24] Another question is in whether an international ban on whaling and, as a result, the growing number of whales is likely to misbalance the global marine ecosystem.[25] Throughout the last centuries, the number of whales had been constantly declining. Whether more whales work for the better or the worse of the ecological system is still the issue of the major concern. The historical data regarding the number of whales that lived in the international ecosystems and were hunted throughout the last two-three centuries implies that whales living in super-abundance do not benefit ecological systems but, on the contrary, can “eat out the oceans as fast as they can go”.[26]  Scientific assumptions about potential extermination of whales are based on numbers – scientists believe that the rapidly declining number of whales during the last two centuries indicates the threat which whaling poses to the stability of whale and other fish populations in various marine ecosystems. However, before an international ban on whaling becomes a reality, scientists must decide what natural effects it will produce and whether it is worth banning whaling for the sake of insignificant changes in whale populations.Moreover, it would be fair to assume that even in case of such a ban, countries will continue their whaling activities; and not a ban but legalisation of whaling will give ecological organisations better opportunities to manage and monitor various whaling activities. Murray (2010) is correct, saying that the resumption of limited legal whaling will help organisations reign control of the practice and will, ultimately, save the lives of almost 18,000 whales every year.

[27] If ecologists seek effective means to restore whale populations, there is no way for them better than making whaling legal, acceptable, and widely spread.ConclusionWhaling is a controversial issue today. Thousands of ecological organisations vote for an international ban on whaling, to give whales a chance to restore their populations. There should be no international ban on whaling. Whaling is the source of significant economic benefits.

Whaling benefits economies through more jobs and higher export profits. Indirect benefits of whaling imply an opportunity to preserve numerous fish stocks, including krill and cod, which whales consume in thousands. Whales benefit medical research and give a hope to cure the most complex human diseases. That the number of whales gradually declines is not necessarily the result of whaling but a natural process which no ban can stop. Legalisation of whaling will facilitate monitoring and managing whaling operations, and if ecologists seek effective means to control whale population there is no way for them better than to make whaling legal and acceptable.

RecommendationsWhaling should be legalised. Governments and ecological organisations must develop a system of quotas and limits to the annual number of whales available for hunting. A system of monitoring must be developed to control the number of whales killed for commercial purposes and the changes in whale populations in various ecosystems.BIBLIOGRAPHYBrown, S. “Whaling – a bloody business”. Oceania, 2009http://www.oceania.org.au/soundnet/features/blood.html (accessed 6 May 2010).


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