Whale sanctuaries

Fluke of Southern Right whale.
Fluke of a southern right whale

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling provides the International Whaling Commission (IWC) with the power to establish whale sanctuaries, provided that a three-quarters majority of the voting members agree.

There are two sanctuaries currently in existence and one proposed sanctuary:

Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary

The sanctuary was established in 1987, and covers the entire Indian Ocean, to 40 degrees South. There was little opposition to its establishment, because the area has not supported large catches of whales for many decades.

The status sanctuary was reviewed in 2004 and its life was extended for a further ten years.

Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary

The sanctuary was established by the IWC in December 1994. It covers most of the Southern Ocean south of 40 degrees South, to the ice-edge, and includes all the major feeding areas for baleen whales in the Southern Hemisphere.

Japan has objected to the inclusion of minke whales within the list of species protected from whaling within the sanctuary, and is therefore not bound by the Commission's decision to establish the sanctuary. In addition, Japan kills 800-900 minke whales and up to 50 fin whales within the sanctuary each year, through the provisions of Article 8 of the Convention, which allows any member to issue to itself a Special Permit to kill whales for the purposes of scientific research.

South Pacific Whale Sanctuary

Australia and New Zealand have proposed the establishment of a South Pacific Whale Sanctuary, which would protect the breeding grounds of most of the species of migratory great whales that are found in the region.

The proposed sanctuary would stretch from Papua New Guinea in the west to Pitcairn Island and French Polynesia in the east, and from Fiji and Tonga in the south to the Equator.