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Geosciences LibreTexts

15.3: Whaling

The history of whaling dates back to at least 4,000 years ago when indigenous people in areas with whales relied on whale meat for sustenance. Native Americans were noted for hunting whales back in the early 1600's. As whale meat and blubber became more of a commodity that could be used in products, the whaling industry emerged throughout Europe and North America. As technology grew, whale hunters were able to create new techniques in capturing and killing whales. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, whaling continued to be a profitable business with high competition. Whale oil was also used in lamps at the time but the decline in the whale industry was caused by the emergence of the petroleum industry as a more reliable fuel. In in 1946 the International Whaling Commission was created and included 89 nations who agreed to regulate whaling. A moratorium was implemented in 1986, although Iceland, Norway, and Japan continue to hunt whales through legal loopholes such as under pretenses of scientific research.

The process of whaling is inhumane and environmentally harmful. Whales have long life spans and are slow to reproduce, which is a large reason why they have been listed as an endangered species since 1971. Hunters use grenade harpoons to wound the whale until is immobile. The whale is then dragged closer to the boat where it will be continuously shot until it eventually dies slowly and painfully--sometimes it takes an hour to kill the whale.