International Whaling Commission
This commission, composed of 88 contracting governments, provides for the proper conservation of whale stocks and orderly development of the whaling industry.
The International Whaling Commission 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 in part by reviewing and, as necessary, revising the measures outlined in the legally binding schedule included in the convention. The Commission also conducts activities related to cetacean (e.g., whale, dolphin) conservation.
The Commission normally meets every other year to review the condition of whale stocks and to modify conservation measures, as appropriate. Currently, there are 88 contracting governments. The United States has been an active member of the Commission and has served as its depositary government since the Commission’s establishment.
Regulation of Whaling Under the IWC
There are generally three types of whaling that the Commission regulates: commercial, scientific research, and aboriginal subsistence whaling.
In 1986, a global moratorium, or a temporary ban, on commercial whaling was adopted due to the overexploitation of whale stocks. The Commission has also designated sanctuary areas in the Indian and Southern Oceans where commercial whaling is not allowed. Although the moratorium is still in place, some countries, such as Norway and Iceland, continue to engage in commercial whaling activities; Norway objects to the moratorium, and Iceland has a reservation to the moratorium that allows it to continue commercial whaling.
Scientific Research Whaling
Article VIII of the Convention allows contracting governments to issue special permits authorizing the taking of whales for purposes of scientific research. Japan’s lethal scientific research in the North Pacific and Southern Oceans under such special permit ended in 2019 with their withdrawal from the Convention.
The Commission also regulates aboriginal subsistence whaling (whaling by native people to sustain themselves). Currently, the Commission permits indigenous communities in Denmark (Greenland), the Russian Federation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States to engage in this type of whaling on certain whale stocks. The United States is subject to domestic legal requirements and works with the indigenous communities in Alaska and Washington state to ensure that the catch limits established through the Commission meet their cultural and subsistence needs.
The Role of Science in the IWC
The Convention places a strong emphasis on scientific advice. To this end, the IWC has established its Scientific Committee, which is composed of approximately 200 of the world’s leading whale biologists, some of whom are invited experts. The Scientific Committee meets annually and has produced catch limit algorithms that provide sustainable and appropriately precautionary catch limits for commercial and subsistence whaling. In addition, the Scientific Committee responds to IWC questions regarding issues of cetacean conservation.
The Commissioner, assisted by experts and advisors, represents the United States on the IWC. Our acting U.S. Commissioner is Ryan Wulff from the NOAA Fisheries West Coast regional office.
For more information on the IWC, please contact Carolyn Doherty (email@example.com), NOAA Fisheries Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection.
You can also follow the news and views from the Office of the U.S. Commissioner to the IWC at our Twitter handle: @USAforWhales.
- Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for Issuing Annual Catch Limits to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission for a Subsistence Hunt on Bowhead Whales for the Years 2019 and Beyond
- Memorandum of Cooperation Concerning Conservation Measures for the Western Gray Whale Population
- Cooperative Agreement Between NOAA and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, 2013–2018
- 2017 Amendment to the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission–NOAA Cooperative Agreement
- U.S.–Russian Federation 2015 Bowhead and Gray Whale Aboriginal Subsistence Quota Monitoring Agreements
- 2016 U.S. Voluntary Cetacean Conservation Report to the IWC