Saving the Whales in the New Millennium: International Institutions, Recent Developments and the Future of International Whaling Policies

48 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2010

See all articles by Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne

Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law

Date Written: 2005


Any contemporary discussion of whaling inevitably involves scientific, political and philosophical deliberations. Although records suggest that humans have been whaling since the thirteenth century, it is only within the past eighty years that whaling nations have participated in an international dialogue about the sustainability of whaling, and it is only within the past thirty years that concerns about the morality of whaling have entered the conversation in a substantive way. Nevertheless, these recently articulated concerns already have helped to shape the content of modern international whaling law.

Due to drastic declines in whale stocks and escalating protests concerning the legitimacy of whaling, the objectives of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) - the main international institution governing whaling - have shifted from managing and utilizing whale stocks to protecting and preserving them. The most controversial result of this shift is the IWC’s decision to establish a whaling moratorium that prohibits participating parties from conducting any commercial whaling. First taking effect in 1986 and extended by the IWC every year since 1990, the moratorium’s continued existence has led to great division among the parties of the IWC. Conflict over its role and purpose now threatens the stability and continuing existence of the IWC.

IWC member states have disagreed about the suitability of the moratorium since its inception. Within the past decade, however, the opposition’s voice has grown stronger, and protests have intensified. Led by Japan and Norway, a growing contingency of states now actively seeks to overturn the ban. Both Japan and Norway opted out of the moratorium in 1982, and thus neither party is legally bound to comply with its dictates. Despite their circumvention of the moratorium and their resumption of commercial whaling, however, both Japan and Norway have remained parties to the IWC. Instead of adopting the role of passive objectors, they have actively sought to overturn the IWC’s suspension of commercial whaling, to remove whales from the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species’ (CITES) list of species for which no commercial trade is allowed, and to modify the preservationist tone of the international debate.

This article analyzes recent developments in international whaling law, focusing on the institutional relationship between the IWC and CITES and on the probability of Japan and Norway successfully leading an effort to derail preservationist policies. Part II briefly discusses the history of whaling. Part III provides a brief overview of the relevant international institutions, focusing on the IWC and CITES, and summarizes the roles of these institutions in the whaling debate. Part IV examines the cultural and ethical perspectives of the main parties to this debate. Finally, Part V considers the future of the IWC and CITES and suggests that the international community should modify its approach in order to maintain the existence and integrity of central standard-setting bodies and meaningful international whaling policies.

Keywords: whaling policy

Suggested Citation

Carlarne, Cinnamon Piñon, Saving the Whales in the New Millennium: International Institutions, Recent Developments and the Future of International Whaling Policies (2005). Virginia Environmental Law Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1, 2005, Available at SSRN:

Cinnamon Piñon Carlarne (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Michael E. Moritz College of Law ( email )

55 West 12th Avenue
Columbus, OH 43210
United States

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