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The hunting of whales for food, oil, or both.

The hunting of whales by Eskimos and Native Americans began around 100 a.d. in North America. In Europe the systematic hunting of whales began during the Middle Ages and greatly expanded in the seventeenth century. Whaling was driven by the desire to procure whale oil and sperm oil. Whale oil comes from baleen whales and is an edible product that was used in the making of margarine and cooking oil. Sperm oil, which comes from sperm whales, was used for illuminating lamps, as an industrial lubricant, and as a component of soaps, cosmetics, and perfumes.

During the nineteenth century, the U.S. whaling fleet dominated the world industry. Most of the seven hundred U.S. ships sailed out of New Bedford and Nantucket, Massachusetts. However, the industry went into a steep decline with the discovery and exploitation of petroleum during the late nineteenth century. Though new uses for sperm oil were developed, the U.S. fleet gradually disappeared.

In the early twentieth century, concerns were raised about the dwindling whale population. An international movement to regulate the hunting of whales met resistance from Scandinavian countries and Japan, but in 1931 the League of Nations convened a Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. It proved unsuccessful because several important whaling states refused to participate.

Annual international whaling conferences led to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling in 1946, which established the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC was charged with the conservation of whale stocks. It limited the annual Antarctic kill and created closed areas and hunting seasons throughout the world. Despite these initiatives and others over the years, the whale population edged closer to extinction, and the IWC agreed in 1982 to prohibit commercial whaling beginning in 1986. Commercial whaling has continued, however, often under the fiction of capturing specimens for scientific research.

In 1990 a scientific study was begun to determine if the whaling Moratorium should be lifted. Though the study indicated that whale populations were growing, in 1993 the United States refused to agree to a resumption of commercial whaling, and the IWC agreed. The United States warned that if a country (primarily Japan, Norway, or Iceland) ignored the IWC conservation program and resumed commercial whaling without IWC approval, that country's actions would be reviewed, and sanctions would be considered where appropriate.

Further readings

Freeman, Milton M. R., et al. 1998. Inuit, Whaling, and Sustainability. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press.


Environmental Law; Fish and Fishing.

References in periodicals archive ?
Sperm Whale: Because of its richness in oil and spermaceti, this was the most desired whale during the peak years of American commercial whaling.
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commissioner Rolland Schmitten says Japan's intransigent effort to revive commercial whaling is not motivated by money.
DNA testing regularly conducted in Japan by IFAW experts has verified that meat from a variety of protected species is for sale, suggesting that so-called "scientific" whaling is providing a cover for a larger, illegal Japanese trade in whale meat.
It said 43 Bryde's, 5 sperm and 40 minke whales were caught during this year's whaling between Aug.
Three whale species were the targets of the latest whaling.
But to impose a ban on all whaling simply because some species are in need of protection is like banning all fishing because the cod population had been endangered by overfishing in certain areas.
Despite the international moratorium on commercial whaling that took effect in Japan in 1988, Japan's coastal whaling tradition has not been extinguished, as a result of various measures by the government, industry and local communities.
Over the next few years, she must figure out how to find food, migrate and outwit her predators - killer whales and whaling boats.
The plight of these beloved mascots of the sea captured the popular imagination - and mobilized protests that culminated in one of the greatest victories of green activism: a global moratorium on whaling.