Chronography of whales and whaling

Page last modified 7/11/2022


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�Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret�, Horace. You can expel nature with a pitchfork, but she will keep returning.

God will not seek thy race, nor will he ask thy birth. Alone he will demand of thee �What hast thou done with the land that I gave thee�, Persian Proverb

In fighting Nature, Man can win every battle, except the last, Thor Heyerdahl


1/7/2019, Japan recommenced commercial whaling, having withdrawn from the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

2017, For the first time not one Right Whale calf was born in the northern Atlantic. Hunting them was banned in 1935; their numbers, then down to about 100, slowly recovered to 500 by 2000. Pollution, injuries from shipping, man-made marine noise, and entanglement in fishing paraphernalia have caused their numbers to drop again to 430 by 2017, including just 100 breeding-age females.

1994, A whale sanctuary was established in the Antarctic.

1992, Norway resumed whaling activities.

1/1/1986, The International Whaling Commission (IWC) placed a moratorium on commercial whaling. However some nations, including Norway, Iceland and Japan, continued to hunt whales under the guise of �scintific research� which was permitted by the IWC. However the ban had had a beneficial effect. In 1900, before commercial whaling took off, there were 200,000 blue whales worldwide. They were hunted for their ,massive oil content; 30,000 were killed in 1931 alone. Their population plummeted to just 1,500 in the 1960s. Since the IWC ban, they have recovered to a population of around 4,500 in 2005. However the global whale population, 4.4 million in 1900, had fallen to less than 1 million by 1990.

1985, Norway agreed to suspend commercial whaling. However it later allowed fishing for Minke Whale, and the export of whale products.

23/7/1982, The International Whaling Commission decided to end whaling by 1986.

1975, The International Whaling Commission (IWC) again proposed a 10-year moratorium on whaling, ewhich was again refused by the whaling nations, but the IWC did succeed in reducing annual quotas for the catch from 37,300 to 32,450 tons.

1974, Some 37,500 whales were killed worldwide. This was the quota set by the International Whaling Commission. 85% of this number was accounted for by Japan and Russia. The IWC quota allowed the slaughter of 23,000 sperm whales annually, a number believed to be unsustainable.

1973, Japoan claimed that it needed the whaling industry to continue as it provided some 50,000 jobs, and whalemeat was a major source of protein for the Japoanese people, which was cheaper than beef. Russia, meanwhile, was belived to use whale oil for lubricating military equipment.

1966, There were so few blue whales left that hunting for them was no longer profitable. Tjis year they were given legal protection, along with the humpback whale. However there were now so fewof both species left that males were finding it hard to find females to maintain the population.

1966, Hunting for humpback whales was banned globally. Their slow speed made them easy to catch and it was estimated that 95%-99% of southern-hemisphere humpback whales had been killed for blubber and meat. The killing of humpbacks finally ceased in 1973 when the USSR suspended its illegal slaughtering. They are now no longer a threatened species, and attract tourists in the oceans off Australia.

1962, The International Whaling Commission met in Stockholm, amidts growing concern over the rapidly diminishing global whale population. A 10-year moratorium on whaling was proposed but whaling nations refused to accept this. Instead countries such as the UK and USA., where whale meat was was mainly for pet food, banned imports of it, curbing the growth of whaling to an extent.

1958, This year whalers killed 6,908 Blue Whales, the largest creature ever to live on Earth. In 1965 the year hunting for Blue Whales ceased, just 1 was found, and it was estimated that then just 1,000 remained in the oeeans. In 2020 there estimated to be 25,000 of them alive.

1946, The International Whaling Commission was established by the Washington Convention. Its aim was to ration out allowed whale catches amongst whaling nations, to try and preserve the industry. However a poorly-designed conservation system decreed that the Antarctic hunting season would begin on 7 January, and end when the equivalent of 16,000 blue whales had been taken. There was a �whale equivalency� scheme where, for example, one blue whale equalled 2.5 humpbacks or 6 smaller Sei Whales. This of course incentivised whalers to capture as many whales as they could in a short a time as they could.

1937, The US Government banned the hunting of California Grey Whales. However Russian and Japanese trawlers continued to hunt them on a large scale until 1947, and in the 1970s Russia still killed some 150 Grey Whales a year for consumption by indigenpous peoples in the far north of Siberia.

1935, Hunting of Right Whales was banned by international agreement.

1920, The Right Whale population was down to an estimated 2,000 - 4,000. Theoir population, in the Antarctic, may have originally been some 150,000. They were originally the �right� wahle to hunt, as they moved slowly, were rich in oil, and floated after being killed.

6/9/1902, Whale hunt in the Shetlands. 166 were caught.

1862, Sven Foyn, Norwegian, invented the harpoon, revolutionising the whaling industry.

1200s, Whale hunting began, mainly by Basque fishermen operating out of the Bay of Biscay. Whales provided many valued products, including high-protein food, ambergris for perfumes, whalebones for corsets and umbrellas, and oil for margarine, lighting and lubrication, as well as fertiliser. However these products all now have substitutes, fir example magarine is made from vegetable oil, and plastic for umbrellas.


Estimated global whale populations, 1,000s (numbers in brackets are average weight in tonnes)




Blue Whale (96)

Finback (53)

Grey (34)

Humpback (36)

Minke (5)

Right (74)

Sei (12)

Sperm (30)


























































































































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