Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Idioms, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.


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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
But a Japanese source close to the whaling industry and very much on the pro-whaling side of the debate has told Geographical that they believe the industry is in crisis.
Stefan Asmundsson, the commissioner of whaling at Iceland's Ministry of Fisheries, says his country's hunts are sustainable, despite targeting an endangered species.
Icelanders have been hunting whales since the days of the Vikings, but stopped commercial whaling in 1985, and scientific whaling in 1989, under the international moratorium on commercial hunts.
Domestic demand is down, prices are falling and stockpiles are growing--and there is nothing traditional about Japanese commercial whaling in distant waters.
The 48-member whaling body first began discussing the review of catch limits the IWC permits indigenous peoples for subsistence reasons, or so-called aboriginal subsistence whaling.
Conservationists call Japan's research whaling program a cover for commercial whaling, noting that the whale meat is sold for consumption in Japan.
Many first-time sailors signed on whaling ships expecting wonderful adventures on tropical islands.
The president of the Association for the Preservation of Food Custom through Sustainable Whaling in Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, argues the International Whaling Commission (IWC) needs to recognize the benefits of Japan's research whaling and long history of harvesting and eating whales.
By the middle of the 19th century, whaling was a huge industry.
The IWC banned commercial whaling in 1986, but a loophole allows harvesting some whales for scientific purposes.
That's quite a switch from their 19th-century reputation as devil fish, an infamy stemming from fierce attacks on whaling ships in defense of their young.
Inuit Whaling and Sustainability, Milton Freeman, et al., eds., Walnut Creek, California, AltaMira Press, 1998.