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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 ?
The moratorium, which came into effect in 1986, was intended originally as a temporary measure to allow whale stocks to recover and for biologists to agree on sustainable levels of whale hunting.
The Japanese delegate to the IWC, Joji Morishita, said his country wants to "resume, under international control, sustainable whale hunting of abundant species".
Changing Japan's policy on whale hunting would require a different approach.
She also ponders attempts to reduce contamination by discouraging whale hunting and altering other cultural practices.
It is illegal to go whale hunting in Salt Lake City in Utah ( a state with no coastline.
In August, Iceland announced it would resume whale hunting after a 14 year hiatus.
The government of Iceland announced last week that it was resuming whale hunting as part of a scientific programme, effectively bypassing international treaties banning commercial killing.
Give me whale hunting over old blokes playing tennis any day.
Japan's whale hunting and eating campaign has reached a new level of audacity,'' IFAW President Fred O'Regan said in a statement.
However, since 1946, whales have been protected by the Marine Mammal act, which banned commercial whale hunting in the United States.
Soon, colonists in places like Sag Harbor, New York; and Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, began whale hunting.