A harpooner aims his lance at a sperm whale near Pico Island, Azores, Portugal.

Photograph by O. Louis Mazzatenta, National Geographic
  • On July 23, 1982, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted to ban commercial whaling, the hunting and killing of whales for profit. This radically reduced the whaling industry, but did not eliminate it. Many countries are not members of the IWC and are not bound by its rules. Canada, for instance, is not a member of the IWC, and allows some Inuit communities to hunt whales on a limited basis. Denmark regulates whaling on the Faroe Islands.

    Many countries allow small-scale whaling, mostly tied to indigenous cultural practices. Some island nations in the Caribbean, such as Dominica and Grenada, have small whaling fleets. Two Indonesian communities continue to practice whaling traditions. A few Native American communities in the United States and Russia are allowed to hunt a certain number of whales every year.

    Today, the governments of Japan, Norway, and Iceland have the world’s largest whaling fleets. These countries say they only hunt whales for scientific research.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    ban Verb

    to prohibit, or not allow.

    commercial Adjective

    having to do with the buying and selling of goods and services.

    fleet Noun

    group of ships, usually organized for military purposes.

    indigenous Adjective

    characteristic to or of a specific place.

    Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous
    Inuit Noun

    people and culture native to the Arctic region of Canada, Greenland, and the U.S. state of Alaska.

    nation Noun

    political unit made of people who share a common territory.

    Encyclopedic Entry: nation
    profit Noun

    money earned after production costs and taxes are subtracted.

    regulate Verb

    to determine and administer a set of rules for an activity.

    research Noun

    scientific observations and investigation into a subject, usually following the scientific method: observation, hypothesis, prediction, experimentation, analysis, and conclusion.

    whaling Noun

    industry of hunting whales.