U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in NATURE Vol 435, 16 June 2005.


Eighteen years after initiating scientific whaling in Antarctic waters, Japan presented a new and more ambitious program to the International Whaling Commission (IWC); the proposal was made in early June during the IWC’s annual meeting in Ulsan, Korea. Japan now wishes to more than double its annual catch of Antarctic minke whales (from about 440 to 935), and to expand lethal sampling to include an additional yearly take of 50 humpback and 50 fin whales. Unlike catches for commercial whaling, scientific catches are unregulated. Since 1987, Japan has taken some 6,800 minke whales from Antarctic waters, despite ongoing criticism of the relevance and direction of Japan’s research.

The IWC was set up to regulate commercial whaling and to conserve whale populations, under the authority of the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Following a well-documented failure of management that led to the collapse of most global whale populations, the IWC set a zero quota for commercial whaling (the moratorium). This was made effective from 1986. Norway, the former Soviet Union and Japan initially objected to the moratorium, but Japan withdrew its objection and ceased commercial whaling in 1988.