In the “The conservation of whales in the 21st century

Most of the great whale species were exploited to the edge of extinction by the commercial whaling industries of many countries, including New Zealand, in relatively recent times. Whales were common throughout the world’s oceans until humans learned to hunt them in large numbers. Many species had all but disappeared by 1986, when a long-overdue ban on commercial whaling entered into force.

Humpback whale breaching off the Taranaki coast, New Zealand. Photo: Bryan Williams.
Humpback whale breaching off the
Taranaki coast, New Zealand

Recovery of many whale species since the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium has been extremely slow, because whales are slow breeders and possibly also because of new environmental threats. Because they are long-lived, migrate huge distances, spend much of their time underwater and live often far from land, whales are difficult to study. Despite much effort, relatively little is known about the ecology of many whale species.

Whales have now come to symbolise the excesses to which unrestrained human activity can go. Their potential recovery is widely seen as a signal as to whether humans can restrain themselves for the benefit of future generations. In light of those excesses, there needs to be clear scientific evidence of the restoration of whale populations before the moratorium on commercial whaling should even be reexamined.

Even if, eventually, clear evidence were developed that some whale populations had rebuilt to levels at which a sustainable harvest might be possible, the question of whether such a harvest should be undertaken should be weighed carefully against other considerations. These should include the availability of satisfactory and more readily sustainable alternative sources of employment, such as whale watching, for communities currently involved in whale killing for commercial gain, and whether there can be any humane method of slaughtering such huge animals when they are not able to be restrained for that purpose.

Water runs off a humpback whale's tail as it drops below the surface. Photo: Nan Hauser.
Water runs off a humpback whale's tail
as it drops below the surface

The conservation needs of the 21st century are very different from the ones contemplated when the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) was concluded in 1946. Although a more up-to-date Convention is highly desirable, this is unlikely in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, New Zealand considers it important to ensure that the current institutional machinery functions effectively.
New Zealand opposes:

  • any form of commercial take of any whales, including dolphins and porpoises;
  • killing whales for “scientific” purposes.

New Zealand accepts:

  • limited IWC-regulated aboriginal subsistence whaling, in accordance with IWC rules, to protect the legitimate interests of indigenous communities;
  • the humane euthanasia of beached whales that cannot be refloated.

New Zealand strongly supports:

  • whale sanctuaries, such as the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuaries, as appropriate tools for the interim protection of whales. Such regional sanctuaries should be stepping stones towards a global sanctuary;
  • strong linkages and synergies with overlapping international environmental forums and organisations, and application of guiding principles of international environmental law;
  • non-consumptive use of whales, such as whale watching;
  • the pursuit of humane killing methods to lower the time to death for whales, and the reduction of any unnecessary pain inflicted upon them.

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