U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Paper SC/57/SH6 presented to the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee, June 2005, Ulsan, Korea.


We review catches of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Southern Ocean during the period following World War II, with an emphasis on Areas IV, V and VI (the principal regions of illegal Soviet whaling on this species). Where possible, we summarize legal and illegal Soviet catches by year, Area and factory fleet, and also include information on takes by other nations. Soviet humpback catches between 1947 and 1973 totaled 48702 and break down as follows: 649 (Area I), 1412 (Area II), 921 (Area III), 8779 (Area IV), 22569 (Area V) and 7195 (Area VI), with 7177 catches not assignable to area.

In all, at least 72542 humpback whales were killed by all operations (Soviet plus other nations) after World War 2 in Areas IV (27201), V (38146) and VI (7195). More than a third of these (25474 whales, of which 25192 came from Areas V and VI) were taken in just two seasons, 1959/60 and 1960/61. The impact of these takes, and of those from Area IV in the late 1950's, is evident in the sometimes dramatic declines in catches at shore stations in Australia, New Zealand and Norfolk Island.

When compared to recent estimates of abundance, the large removals from Areas IV and V indicate that the populations in these regions remain well below pre-exploitation levels despite reported strong growth rates off eastern and western Australia. Populations in many areas of Oceania continue to be small, indicating that the catches from Area VI and eastern Area V had long-term impacts on recovery.