History of Whaling

History of whaling is a very sad story.

Whales are smart animals with a complex social system. They are friendly nature towards people as well as their family and group members. They have an ability to feel sad and sorry to a point where they follow sick group members to beaches, ending up getting stranded themselves.

It is very sad that up to about 90% of whales in many species had to experience so much human cruelty.

The Oldest History of Whaling

Whale Struck by a Harpoon While Breaching, c.1800
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In the very old days, whaling was practiced in countries where it's hard to practice agriculture, so people were forced to look for food from the water. Island nations for example don't have much land surface to grow crops. In polar regions, agriculture is virtually impossible. In these regions, whaling started very early. Norwegians are known to have practiced whaling thousands of years ago. Other countries with very long whaling traditions are Iceland, Greenland, Japan and Faroe Islands. But in those days, the techniques were primitive and whales were killed only for consumption on a local level. That scale of whaling didn't threaten whale populations, which at the time were still healthy and plentiful. It was still a cruel activity, but at least only small amounts of whales had to experience it.  

History of Whaling in the 1200s - 1800s

Long Boat Crew Harpooning a Whale
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Whaling started first being commercial in Europe. Basque people from northern Spain were the first people who started trading whale products in 1200s. They mostly hunted right whales because they were easy to catch being slow moving, travelling in pods, and floating after being killed. By the 15th century, whale hunters started noticing that the whales became more and more rare. Meanwhile, other countries in Europe had also started whaling. The practice was brought to America with coastal indigenous people migrating from Canada and also with British settlers. Later, colonists took it to other parts of the world. In these old days, whaling was still a dangerous practice. Fighting the whales from small canoes was often a battle that could end in either way.  

History of Whaling in the 1900s

The First Unsuccessful Cable is Laid by Hms "Agamemnon": an Inquisitive Whale Crosses the Line
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But with the advancing techniques and larger ships whales soon became helpless. The scale of whaling accelerated in 1900s to a point where factory ships were invented where whales could be processed on the ships. By the mid-1900s the vast majority of the world's whales had been killed. In the 1970's people started to oppose whaling. This was thanks to media efforts by broadcasting news about how the whales were slaughtered, publishing statistics about how drastically the populations had decreased. They also recorded whale songs on radio which made people realize these animals had brains and feelings. They weren't primitive fish but warm-blooded mammals like ourselves, with an understanding about their surroundings, and a right to live free from horrors.

International Whaling Commission

Whale Bone Arch on Village Harbour, Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn), Disko Island, West Coast, Greenland
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In 1949, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established, originally to make whaling sustainable. In later years though, many anti-whaling countries simply want to stop whaling as such, have joined the organization. IWC, however, is not an effective protection to whales since its rules don't act as international laws. Their rules have to be followed by member countries only, and the membership is voluntary. Any country can withdraw themselves from the membership any time.

Modern History of Whaling

Whaling, Faroe Islands (Faeroes), North Atlantic
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Commercial whaling is now illegal. Whaling by indigenous people, and whaling for scientific research, however, are legal albeit restricted to limited numbers. The countries that still practice whaling today include Norway, Japan, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Iceland, and (the indigenous people of) Canada, the US and Russia (far east Siberia). Japan particularly stresses that they do it for research. It is interesting though that now as the commercial whaling is illegal, the countries that are so eager to "do research", are the countries whose traditional diet includes whales. In other words, we all know they do some research to be able to continue to kill and eat the whales.


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