The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 to manage the dwindling stocks of whales. Each year quotas were set for each commercial species i.e. the maximum no. to be killed each year, but these were often ignored and whales continued to decrease. It was during the 1970s that conservation organisations realised that action was needed to prevent the extinction of the great whales. In 1975, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) gave full protection to several species including the blue, grey, humpback and right whales. International pressure on the IWC continued and in 1986 it finally put a limitation on whaling.
Despite this ban on whaling, a few countries have refused to stop and are campaigning to lift the ban altogether, even though most countries agree with it. Norway, Iceland and Japan still have large whaling fleets and continue commercial whaling, often under the pretext of 'scientific research'. In Japan, whale meat is popular as a delicacy.
Counting whales: it would be easy to hunt a species of whale to the point of extinction because whales mature slowly and do not reproduce quickly. Therefore, accurate information about them is necessary. Conservaton groups, such as Greenpeace, try to keep an eye on whaling activities and make their own whale population studies.
It is not easy to count whales. The individuals of some species have distinctive markings, making them easy to recognise, but others do not. Whalers used to mark a whale with a stainless steel dart which lodged in its blubber. When the whale was caught, the recovered dart then gave information about the whale's movements and age. This darting can also help with population estimates. Similar darts, called 'spaghetti tags', with colourful streamers, have also been developed, which mean that the whale can be monitored without being killed - but they are not yet widely used. Another method of counting whales involves spotting all the whales along an imaginary line (a transect) drawn across the sea. Sightings taken by sea and air give an estimation of the population density of a particular area.Read More: Helping Whales