IWC Establishes Special Procedures for Subsistence Whaling:  Commercial Whaling Banned


On July 23, the International Whaling Commission (IWC), meeting in Brighton, England, voted to ban all commercial whaling starting in 1986. The vote, 25 to 7, was considered a great victory for the world’s whale conservation forces which had in a decade’s time turned around the IWC from being a whale-harvest manager to whale conservator. Voting against the moratorium were Brazil, Iceland, South Korea, Japan, Norway, Peru, and the U.S.S.R.

The same day, the IWC Technical Committee voted to ban the Inupiat subsistence hunt of the bowhead whale. The Committee recommendation to ban the hunt was taken as a retaliatory broadside by the whaling countries at the U.S. delegation for supporting the commercial ban. At that point, North Slope Mayor Eugene Brower, attending the conference, issued a statement indicating Inupiat support for the U.S. position. “the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission urges the United States and other countries to stand firm in the protection of whale stocks exploited for commercial purposes,” he said. Brower pointed out it was commercial whaling and not the aboriginal hunt of the bowhead that had caused depletion of the bowhead whale. “The AEWC expresses confidence that the full IWC in plenary session will not abandon the three-year block quota for bowhead whales, particularly in the light of the fact that the scientific committee has reported that there are now 1,500 more whales than there were thought to be last year (a total of 3,857, of which the Inupiat take about 20 a year for nutritional purposes).

“We resent being used as pawns by whaling nations such as Spain. But we understand that desperate people do unfair things against innocent people,” the statement said.

Subsistence Whale Upheld

The following day, the vote on the subsistence ban in the full IWC assembly failed to win the necessary majority of three-quarters of those present and voting. In a related action, the IWC established special management procedures for aboriginal subsistence whaling. These actions were taken as a great victory for the Inupiat representatives present, who had sought recognition of the differences between subsistence and commercial whaling since the IWC first attempted to ban all bowhead whaling in 1977.

Attending the Brighton conference with Mayor Brower were Marie Adams, Executive Director of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, and Eben Hopson, Jr., Special Assistant to the Mayor. Mayor Brower issued a statement expressing great relief at the IWC action.

“It would have meant the end of our 10,000-year-old culture if the IWC would have banned our traditional hunt,” Brower said. The AEWC leaders also expressed their sincere appreciation to United States Senator Ted Stevens for helping to prevent the bowhead ban. Stevens had been present on the U.S. delegation to the Brighton conference and had long taken a special interest in protecting the subsistence hunt.

The Inupiat delegation was pleased that their efforts to bring the IWC (and world opinion) to see the difference between subsistence and commercial whaling were successful. “It is the first time IWC scientists have been directed to differentiate between their conclusions regarding commercial whaling and the information pertaining to the aboriginal subsistence whaling,” said AEWC Director Marie Adams. “Our people will continue to support research to ensure our whales are protected.”