Humpback comeback: time to sharpen the harpoon?

August 12, 2008

A humpback whale breaches the surface off the southern Japanese island of Okinawa February 13, 2007. A special meeting of the International Whaling Commission began on Tuesday, with host Japan and like-minded countries hoping the gathering will build momentum to resume commercial hunting of the giant creatures. REUTERS/Issei Kato (JAPAN)The humpback and some other big whales are recovering from the threat of extinction.

But will the celebrations turn sour, for many people, if whaling nations use the news to justify sharpening their harpoons?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature put out a report today showing that the humpback was off the main endangered list, along with some other species including the southern right whale and the minke whale — it said that stocks were recovering, helped by a 1986 moratorium on all hunts. Many other types of whale, porpoise and dolphin were still in trouble.

But is the report bad news in disguise for whales?

Greenland, for instance, lobbied in vain June to add 10 humpbacks — a whale famed for its spectacular leaps (see the picture above) — to its annual quota of other species caught in an aboriginal hunt. Anti-whaling nations voted “No” at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission, arguing stocks were too small.

Can anti-whalers make that same argument next year?

And Japan this year dropped a plan to hunt 50 humpback whales after international criticism. Will that criticism still be fair if Japan targets humpbacks (perhaps even the famed white whale “Migaloo” off Australia) next year?   A minke whale harpooned by the Japanese whaling vessel Yushin Maru No.2 in the Southern Ocean is seen in this handout photograph released February 7, 2008. Australia released on Thursday pictures of whales killed by a Japanese fleet in the Southern Ocean ahead of a possible legal challenge to stop the annual slaughter, fueling public anger over the practice. A photo of an adult minke whale and her calf being towed up the rear ramp of a Japanese factory processing ship in Antarctic waters prompted headlines including “They call it science”. REUTERS/Australian Customs/Handout (ANTARTICA). EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS.

Whaling nations, mainly Japan, Norway and Iceland, argue they should be allowed to hunt whales when there are enough in the seas. Norway targets about 1,000 minke whales a year, and says there are at least 100,000 in the north-east Atlantic.

So should there be hunts or a ban?


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

No – give them ‘whale rights’ similar to human rights and let them live and thrive without being butchered.

They are one of the most amazing sea creatures with their own intricate lives to live.

Let them live!

Posted by The Truth Is… | Report as abusive

There is nothing new in the argument that some species are plentiful and able to sustain some level of limited, conservative harvest under international oversight and control. It’s been well known for many years that there are also (some) hundreds of thousands of Antarctic minke whales, and even at times when there were agreed estimates of levels of current abundance, the anti-whaling mob at the IWC found excuses to justify their opposition to the taking of even a single one.

When hunts recommence once again, it does not mean that we go back in a time-warp and resume whaling at unsustainable levels all over again.

When hunts recommence once again, they will recommence on a very conservative basis, and one that is backed by rigorous scientific testing for robustness against a range of uncertainties, and in such a way as to ensure that the targeted whale populations are maintained at high levels of abundance so as to ensure catches are maximised over the long term. This is exactly what Norway has already been doing for the past 15 years, and as we see with this latest news, the minke whales that they are taking are not endangered inspite of it.

Some will argue that the whaling industry will seek out short term profits, rather than long term ones. But unlike other fishing industries, the whaling industry is not (any longer) over-capitalized. To avoid over-exploitation of whales is a lesson learnt back in the 20th century.

Thus, this Red List news is definitely not bad news for whale species, it is thoroughly positive for them. It is also positive for conservationists, the future whaling industry and consumers of whale products. The only people crying about it will be those that lack convincing arguments as to why whaling peoples should not be allowed to be whaling peoples.

It’s time to get out of the 1970’s, look at the realities today – the reason that some endangered whale species are failing to recover is for reasons with nothing to do with whaling. Arguments about whaling are counterproductive with respect to conserving the stocks that are in need of it today.

Posted by david | Report as abusive