International Governance of Fisheries Ecosystems: Learning from the Past, Finding Solutions for the Future

Chapter 6: The Volatile Nature of the International Whaling Commission: Power, Institutions, and Norms

Steinar Andresen

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569995.ch6

International organizations usually experience an incremental growth: as they mature, their membership often expands, their scope increases, and some of them also become more effective over time (Miles et al. 2002). However, not all international organizations develop in a gradual manner. Some experience dramatic changes, often responding to ‘external shocks’ (Levy et al. 1995). The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is probably one of the international organizations that have experienced the most dramatic changes over time. It started out as a “whalers’ club;” then protection and not utilization became the name of the game. Today, the pro-whaling forces are once more on the rise. How do we account for this development?

The IWC is the only international body mandated to deal with the large whale species. Currently only aboriginal whaling is managed by the IWC, as the majority of the organization adopted a moratorium against commercial whaling in 1982.1 Since then, considerable scientific effort has been invested in reducing uncertainty over the status of various whale species. Through this process it has become clear that, as outlined in estimates from the IWC Scientific Committee, some species may now be cautiously harvested. However, the IWC has chosen not to lift its ban on commercial whaling. Around 1990 it seemed that the anti-whaling forces were in complete control of the organization, as all IWC nations had abandoned their whaling operations. Over the past decade, however, the pro-whaling forces have increased significantly in number, and the two forces are now about the same size. As a three-fourths majority is needed to lift the moratorium, whales will not be harvested commercially in the near future. On the other hand, the moratorium has been somewhat eroded, as Norway and Iceland resumed unilateral commercial whaling in 1993 and in 2006, respectively.