Whales have been hunted commercially for thousands of years.
Blubber could be consumed or it could be melted down into oil to be used in lamps.
The larger whales could be harvested for literally tons of meat, making them ideal targets for whale hunters.
Certain whales were also hunted because they produced a product called ambergris, which was highly sought after for its use in making perfume.
How Whale Hunts Were Conducted
In the 1,700’s whaling was a dangerous occupation.
When a whale was sighted, the ship’s captain would order the lowering of a whale boat, which would be rowed toward the whale.
Once the whale was close enough, the crewman operating the harpoon would throw it, impaling the whale.
The harpoon was secured to the boat by a long rope and the men would wait for the whale to exhaust itself trying to escape from the harpoon.
During this period of time the whale would violently thrash about, placing crewman in danger of being injured or killed.
Eventually the whale would tire, which allowed the men to close in and kill the whale with lances.
Today’s whale hunting is conducted in an entirely different fashion.
Weapons have improved dramatically, and are now propelled by mechanical means, often exploding upon impact.
Whales that used to evade hunters by speed are now subject to being killed due to the advanced capabilities of modern whaling ships.
How Whaling Has Impacted Whales and the Environment
Whale populations have seriously decreased over time due to over-hunting.
Many different species of whales are on the endangered species list due to commercial whaling or other interference from man.
Besides being hunted for food, certain species of whales, like the beluga, have become endangered due to loss of habitat as man has encroached upon their territory.
River dolphins, considered part of the whale family, are endangered due to territory encroachment, drowning in fishing nets and being killed by fisherman.
How Whaling Has Changed Over the Years
With the creation of the International Whaling Commission, commercial whale hunting has undergone serious changes.
If allowed to continue to go unchecked, the unregulated hunting of whales would have greatly increased the likelihood of extinction.
The IWC, created in the 1940s, was created in order to manage whale populations by establishing reasonable regulations regarding the taking of whales.
The IWC also maintains statistics on whale populations.
Current State of the Whaling Industry
Under the International Whaling Commission, a moratorium was issued disallowing the commercial hunting of whales.
This zero catch policy was instituted in 1985.
There are countries that decline to adhere to the regulations.
These countries continue to hunt whales commercially.
In addition, the IWC allows whales to be killed for scientific research.
Japan continues to kill whales under the guise of scientific reasons, although Japan is trying to increase the number of people consuming whale meat by actually serving it to school students.
Norway, Iceland and Russia are three additional countries that kill large numbers of whales each year.
The IWC also has an aboriginal needs exception to the moratorium against hunting whales, allowing the limited killing of whales by particular indigenous people’s in a handful of countries.
These native people are allowed to kill a limited number of whales, as whale hunting comprises a major part of their culture.
Although the list of whales on the endangered species list is overwhelming, there is good news.
Many whale populations are on the rise since the issuing of the moratorium against commercial whaling in 1985, proving that management efforts are successful.
Modern Day Whaling Efforts
Today whalers participate in commercial whaling mostly as a way to capture and sell the whales meat to local buyers.
In these countries whale eat may be considered a delicacy and depending on where the whale meat is sold some industries are willing to pay a premium for this meat.
In fact a number of counties and industries may buy whale meat and sell them at local grocery stores, meat markets and restaurants among other food venues.
Because of the large ban on commercial whaling and laws designed to prohibit whaling activities most other uses for whale parts have largely declined, and thanks to the creations of alternative resources there is very little need to continue to hunt these marine mammals.
In the past during the whaling era whales were hunted largely for their blubber and other parts which were used to make oil, transmission fluid, candles, cleaning products, corsets, tools, food and even cooking ingredients.
Due to the large-scale whaling efforts of the past many species saw huge declines in their populations and some species have even become highly endangered with little hope of recovering.
In order to prevent further whaling efforts various countries placed laws and restrictions to prohibit the practice of whaling in order to allow various species time to recover and hopefully rebound from the impact of previous whaling activities, however countries that do not have such legal rules in place and countries that use whale research as an excuse to hunt these animals still practice the act of whale hunting today.
Those caught whaling in countries where whale hunting is prohibited may face steep fines or imprisonment plus other fees.
As stated earlier some countries are believed to use whale research as an excuse to continue hunted whales for their meat.
These countries claim that they are performing necessary research to monitor the overall health and well-being of particular species by observing their corpse and then sell the meat because it is the best way to dispose of the whales corps.
One positive event that has occurred out of the ending of the whaling era is the creation of the whale watching industry, which has now become a billion dollar industry employing thousands of workers and serving millions of customers each year.
The negative impact caused by the whaling industry combined with whale watching also brought significant awareness to the world about the need to protect these amazing animals and organizations have been developed to ensure that whales remain protected with the hopes of these marine mammals being able to reproduce and replenish their stocks.
The large increase in capital caused by the creation the whale watching industry has also led some experts to believe that countries involved in commercial whaling should stop their whaling activities and focus on tourism and whale watching to improve their country’s financial capital and world image.
As stated earlier other than hunting whales for commercial purposes whales are also occasionally and legitimately hunted for research purposes.
The purpose of killing whales for research is to obtain information on whale health, migration patterns and other factors that can be used to observe the overall health of certain whale species and to use that information to improve the lives of the whale species that are being research.
Issues however continually rise regarding killing whales for research as some countries are believed to use this legal loophole as a way to continue the practice of whaling.
Anti whaling organizations hope to eventually phase out all forms of whale killing in order ensure that these marine mammals have the best opportunity to survive and thrive.
Lastly, the practice of whaling is performed as a way to maintain the cultural or heritage beliefs a certain indigenous people.
Some populations continue small whaling efforts as a way to maintain their cultural ties with their ancestors that practiced whaling and may consume the whales meat for its perceived health benefits or because of its significance in their cultural heritage.