The whaling industry started when the Basques began hunting and trading whale products in the 11th century.
The Basques were joined by the Dutch and later followed by the British, Americans as well as the Norwegians and other nations.
With the advancement of technology and the general extinction of whales in most parts of the world, whale hunters started focusing on the Antarctic which had large concentration of whales.
The First World War increased the demand for explosives, which were typically made with glycerin from baleen whale oil traded by Norwegian and the British whale hunters in the Antarctic.
In 1925 the League of Nations saw the need for the regulation of whaling activities due to over-exploitation of whales in both the open oceans and in coastal waters.
The Bureau of Whaling Statistics was put in place in 1930 to track whale hunting.
Twenty-two nations came together to sign the first international regulatory agreement, but major whaling countries like Japan and Germany opted out of the agreement and about 43,000 whales were killed in that year.
In 1946 the international Convention for the regulation of whaling (ICRW) was finally put in place after a lot more species of the great whales were becoming extinct.
This led to the coming together of various nations to propose the proper conservation of whales.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC), which originally started with 15 member states, was founded as the governing body of the ICRW.
The Commission now has 89 member states which include whaling, ex-whaling as well as non-whaling countries that have joined to help regulate the conservation of whales.
The IWC has annual meetings to formalize regulations on whaling methods, catch limits as well as protected areas.
These regulations are implemented with a three-quarters majority vote.
The commission has adopted a broader conservation agenda in recent years to address concerns with regards to global changes in the environment and to include cases of incidental catches in fishing gear.
Aboriginal subsistence whaling, which refers to hunting by indigenous people, is regulated differently from commercial whaling activities by the IWC.
In 1961 there were ‘Save the Whales’ campaigns all over the world calling for whale sanctuaries and the prohibition of commercial whaling activities.
In 1982 the IWC proposed restrictions on all commercial whaling activities which were enforced in 1986.
The Norwegian, Japanese and the then USSR governments objected to the prohibition.
In 1994 The Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary was established and it is believed that in the long-term the world’s declining whale population will recover with the establishment of this sanctuary.
The primary duty of the IWC is to maintain and revise as necessary the steps outlined in the ICRW schedule which regulates whaling activities all around the world.
These regulations offer total protection for certain declining species of whales by putting in place limits on the number of whales that are hunted within a given period.
They also have designated whale sanctuaries and prohibit the hunting of female whales and suckling calves.
They compile statistical, biological and catch reports on whales and whaling activities.
The commission also encourages, funds and co-ordinates scientific research on whales and promotes studies on killing operations.
The commission has the mandate to prevent large-scale commercial whaling activities.
Since its inception there has been a broad range of threats to whales through a complex host of marine issues, which makes it almost impossible to separate the threats posed as a result of marine pollution and over-fishing from commercial whaling activities.
The IWC continues to broaden its scope to deal with other human activities that harm the environment and endanger whales to ensure the conservation of the species that are closest to extinction.