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International Whaling Commission


The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling Exit to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and orderly development of the whaling industry.  The IWC meets this mandate in part through the review, and revision as necessary, of the measures outlined in the Schedule to the Convention Exit.  The IWC also conducts a number of activities related to cetacean conservation.  The IWC normally meets every other year to review the condition of whale stocks and to modify conservation measures, as appropriate.  Currently, there are 88 member nations Exit.  The United States has been an active member of the IWC since its establishment in 1948.

    U.S. Commissioner (Acting)

    Ryan Wulff

    National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration    

    NMFS West Coast Region

Regulation of Whaling under the International Whaling Commission

There are generally three types of whaling:  commercial, scientific, and aboriginal subsistence whaling.  In 1986, a global moratorium on commercial whaling was adopted due to over exploitation of whale stocks.  In addition, the IWC has designated sanctuary areas in the Indian and Southern Oceans where commercial whaling may not occur.  Despite the fact that the moratorium is still in place, some countries still engage in commercial whaling.  Norway and Iceland engage in commercial whaling activities under an objection to the moratorium, and reservation to the Convention, respectively.  Japan conducts lethal scientific research in the North Pacific and Southern Oceans, under special permit provisions of Article VIII of the Convention. 

The IWC also regulates aboriginal subsistence whaling Exit.  Currently, the IWC permits this activity on certain whale stocks harvested by aboriginals from Denmark (Greenland), the Russian Federation, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and the United States.  Subject to domestic legal requirements, the U.S. works with the indigenous communities in Alaska and Washington State to ensure that IWC established catch limits meet their cultural and subsistence needs.

The Role of Science in the IWC

The Convention places a strong emphasis on scientific advice.  To this end, the IWC has established a Scientific Committee Exit, which is comprised of approximately 200 of the world’s leading whale biologists, including invited experts.  The Scientific Committee meets annually, and has produced catch limit algorithms to provide for catch limits for commercial and subsistence whaling that are sustainable and appropriately precautionary.  In addition, the Scientific Committee responds to IWC questions regarding conservation issues facing cetaceans.  Learn more about the status of whale species.

Related Documents

For more information on the IWC, please contact Carolyn Doherty (  

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