In the “The conservation of whales in the 21st century”
Experience has shown that it is very difficult to kill a whale at sea humanely; that is, by causing minimum pain or instantaneous death. An explosive-tipped harpoon fired from a cannon on a moving vessel at a moving, partly submerged, unsecured animal is unlikely to lead consistently to instantaneous death. In the 2002 Norwegian minke whale hunt, 20 percent of whales were recorded as not dying instantaneously. In the Japanese “scientific whaling” hunt for minke whales in Antarctica, 60 percent of whales do not die instantaneously.
On impact, the harpoon barbs extend and a grenade explodes inside the whale, inflicting serious injury. The whale is pulled towards the vessel where it is secured. If it is still alive, it may need to be harpooned again or shot with a rifle to kill it. It may take more than one hour to die, in what appears to be extreme pain. Harpooned whales may escape capture, because the harpoon failed to stick, pulled out, or because the line broke. These whales may suffer over several hours or days, before dying of their injuries.
The IWC is seeking ways to minimise time to death and New Zealand strongly supports its efforts. In the 1990s researchers from New Zealand’s Massey University carried out experiments over several years to demonstrate that the electric lance, a method commonly used to “finish off” whales that had been harpooned but were still alive, was an inherently cruel and inhumane device. Their work led directly to a voluntary ban on the use of the lance.
While New Zealand does not support commercial whaling, it has offered advice on the humane killing of whales, derived from anatomical research into different species of beached whales. For humane euthanasia in such circumstances, researchers have standardised the use of heavy calibre firearms on specific target areas at close range.