International Whaling Commission (IWC)

To read updates by AWI staff from the International Whaling Commission's (IWC) annual meetings, click here.

In 1946, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was formed by 12 whaling nations, including the United States, "to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry." The Commission's Secretariat is headquartered in Cambridge, UK, and since its inception, working under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, the Commission has grown to number over 70 nations, many of which have never whaled.

Despite the creation of the Commission, the institution of the Convention to govern whaling, and the cessation of commercial whaling by most of the Commission's founding members in the second half of the 20th century, whale species continued to decline,. n the 1970s and the 1980s, a growing public concern fueled by AWI's "Save the Whales" campaign led to the IWC member nations adopting a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982. Whaling conducted for aboriginal subsistence purposes was not affected by the ban.

The moratorium took effect in 1986, and several countries immediately took advantage of a clause in the convention that allows members that file an objection to IWC decisions to not be bound by the decision. Japan, Norway, Peru and the then-Soviet Union filed objections to the moratorium decision. Peru withdrew its objection in 1983, and Japan staggered its withdrawal over 1987 to 1988. Norway and the then-Soviet Union have not withdrawn their objections. After withdrawing its objection, Japan was able to exploit a loophole in the convention that allows lethal scientific research on whales and requires that the resultant meat be sold commercially.

Iceland did not file an objection to the moratorium, but also exploited the lethal scientific research loophole, and proceeded to conduct scientific whaling until 1992, when it withdrew from the IWC. It rejoined in 2002 after a very controversial vote, and it immediately lodged an objection to the moratorium. Iceland continued to conduct scientific research whaling until 2006, when it also resumed commercial whaling through its objection.

Over 25,000 whales have been killed since the moratorium came into effect, with the smaller and more abundant minke whale becoming the commercial whalers' favored target. Fin whales, sei whales, Bryde's whales, sperm whales and humpback whales are still killed for commercial gain. Although the moratorium undoubtedly prevented the extinction of some great whale species, the ongoing continued commercial whaling is hampering the certainty of their survival through the next century.