What is the International Whaling Commission (IWC)?

The IWC is the global body responsible for the management of whaling and the conservation of whales. But what is the IWC and how does it work?

Membership and leadership

Any nation that formally adheres to the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling can join the IWC. Member countries, of which there are currently 89, appoint their Commissioner, who is often assisted by various experts and advisers. The IWC Chair and Vice-Chair are elected from among the Commissioners and usually serve for three years.


Every dues-paying member of the IWC has one vote, regardless of its population, its economic power or whether it is engaged in whaling.

Non-binding resolutions on any matter concerning whales and whaling may be adopted by a simple majority of member states voting “yes” or “no.” Binding decisions (for example, an overturn of the current moratorium on commercial whaling or the adoption of a new sanctuary) require a three-quarter majority.

Votes for Sale

In an effort to manipulate potential resolutions, Japan is actively buying the votes and support of numerous countries. By soliciting allies, Japan hopes to amass a pro-whaling voting bloc that will be large enough to control any simple majority votes at future IWC meetings. Even some landlocked countries, such as Mongolia, have joined the IWC and vote in line with Japan. This bloc has already sunk resolutions that would have established additional whale sanctuaries in the South Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans.

At the 2011 IWC, a proposal was adopted that addresses the problem of corruption by banning cash payments for membership fees and requires greater transparency within the IWC.

Read the Vote Buying Report for more information