The truth about ‘Scientific’ whaling

Despite the global ban of commercial whaling, Japan uses the provision in the 1946 whaling convention which allows whales to be killed for scientific purposes.  The ‘scientific whaling’ provision has also been used by Norway and Iceland as a way of getting around the rules.  However little, if any useful information comes from ‘scientific whaling’ and it is quite simply commercial whaling conducted under the guise of science.  Whaling countries issue their own catch limits, not the International Whaling Commission.

  • Scientific permit whaling requires whale meat to be used, ie, to be sold or given away. This means a scientific permit is little more than a licence to sell whale meat.
  • The approval of a scientific whaling permit is granted by the nation that applied for it. In other words, Japan approves its own permits for scientific whaling without any external scrutiny or need for explanation.
  • It is no coincidence that the only nations that kill whales for science are those most interested in trying to create markets for whale meat. Japan’s scientific whaling programme led to the killing of hundreds of whales in 2009 alone.

It is hard to imagine any other scientific investigation of a species being organised around the principle of mass killing. For more information, see IFAW's report: In the Name of Science: A Review of Scientific Whaling.

Alternatives to scientific whaling

In an era of DNA sampling and remote monitoring, scientists do not need to kill whales to learn about them. Samples can be collected from skin that whales shed, blubber and fecal matter. Scientists can even collect samples when whales exhale through their blowholes, allowing for detection of pathogens.

Determining vital whale population estimates and trends can only be achieved through sighting surveys and other benign research techniques such as the photo-identification of individual animals and acoustic surveys.

Scientists from IFAW’s Song of the Whale research vessel have pioneered technologies and techniques to study whales without harming them.