The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and orderly development of the whaling industry. The Commission meets this mandate through the review, and revision as necessary, of the measures outlined in the Schedule to the Convention. These measures, among other things, provide for the protection of certain species; designate specified areas as whale sanctuaries; set limits on the numbers and size of whales that may be taken; prescribe open and closed seasons and areas for whaling; and prohibit the striking, taking or killing of calves and female whales accompanied by calves. The compilation of catch reports and other statistical and biological records is also required.

Since 1986, a moratorium on commercial whaling has been in place and the IWC has been working on a science-based procedure to set catch limits, and a system for control and monitoring, called the Revised Management Scheme (RMS). Despite the moratorium, some countries still engage in whaling activities. Norway and Iceland engage in commercial whaling activities under an objection to the moratorium, and reservation to the Convention, respectively. Japan conducts lethal scientific research in the North Pacific and in the Antarctic region, under special permit provisions of Article VIII of the Convention.

The IWC also regulates aboriginal subsistence whaling. Currently, the Commission permits this activity on certain whale stocks harvested by aboriginals from Denmark (Greenland), the Russian Federation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States. Subject to domestic legal requirements, the U.S. works with the indigenous communities in Alaska and Washington State to ensure that IWC established quotas meet their cultural and subsistence needs.

The Convention places a strong emphasis on scientific advice. To this end, the Commission has established a Scientific Committee, which is comprised of approximately 200 of the world’s leading whale biologists, including invited experts. The Scientific Committee meets annually, and has produced over the last decade catch limit algorithms to provide for catch limits for commercial and subsistence whaling that are sustainable and appropriately precautionary. In addition, the Scientific Committee responds to Commission questions regarding conservation issues facing the world’s most endangered cetaceans. These are expressed in broad terms in the Convention text and are to:

  • Encourage, recommend, or, if necessary, organize studies and investigations relating to whales and whaling;
  • Collect and analyze statistical information concerning the current condition and trend of the whale stocks and the effects of whaling activities thereon;
  • Study, appraise, and disseminate information concerning methods of maintaining and increasing the populations of whale stocks.

Starting in 2007, the Commission embarked on a series of discussions on the future of the organization. Discussions over three years culminated in a proposal for reform of the organization that included organizational changes, and a proposed reduction in the overall number of whales killed. At its 62nd meeting, the IWC could not reach consensus on the proposed arrangement, and therefore decided to pause discussions until its next meeting in 2011. More information on these discussions can be found on the IWC website. The United States remains committed to reforming the IWC and improving the global conservation of whales.

The Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs participates in the formulation of U.S. goals, objectives, and strategies in the IWC; the Secretary of Commerce has the responsibility of discharging the domestic obligations of the United States under the IWC.

Related Links:

International Whaling Commission
National Marine Fisheries Service Office of International Affairs

Contracting Countries as of 3/22/11:

Antigua/Barbuda
Argentina
Australia
Austria
Belgium
Belize
Benin
Brazil
Bulgaria
Cambodia
Cameroon
Chile
China
Columbia
Costa Rica
Côte d’Ivoire
Croatia
Cyprus
Czech Republic
Denmark
Dominica
Dominican Republic
Ecuador
Eritrea
Finland
France
Gabon
The Gambia
Germany
Ghana
Greece
Grenada
Guatemala
Guinea
Guinea-Bissau
Hungary
Iceland
India
Ireland
Israel
Italy
Japan
Kenya
Kiribati
Korea
Laos
Lithuania, Republic of
Luxembourg
Mali
Marshall Islands
Mauritania
Mexico
Monaco
Mongolia
Morocco
Nauru
Netherlands
New Zealand
Nicaragua
Norway
Oman
Palau
Panama
Peru
Poland
Portugal
Republic of Congo
Romania
Russian Federation
St. Kitts/Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent/Grenadines
San Marino
Senegal
Slovak Republic
Slovenia
Solomon Islands
South Africa
Spain
Suriname
Sweden
Switzerland
Tanzania
Togo
Tuvalu
United Kingdom
United States
Uruguay

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