Although commercial hunting of whales began in the 18th century, the majority of reported kills took place between 1950 and 1980 when harpoon guns became more widely used. As a result of commercial whaling, the humpback whale herd around New Zealand and Australia was exterminated by 1966. Six years later, the sei herd in the Indian Ocean was destroyed, and by 1975 the sperm whales north of Hawaii had all but vanished. Hunting of the right whale had been banned in 1930, and the blue whale in 1965.
Despite the 1986 moratorium against whaling, a process of "scientific whaling" has been continued by Norway, Japan and Iceland. This is stated to signify the killing of whales to assess their age and sex so that stocks can be calculated. The whales are nevertheless processed in the usual way so that there is strong suspicion that the term is merely a cover-up for normal commercial whaling practices. To compensate for the reduction in supplies of whale meat, the hunting of porpoises has increased since 1986. Thus in three years, Japanese fishermen have killed 70% of the estimated population of 105,000 Dall's porpoises in Japanese waters. It was revealed in 1994 that the former Soviet Union had continued to systematically hunt whales since 1977, selling the meat to the Japanese for hard currency. In the course of the previous 40 years, they had systematically grossly underreported catches by such large amounts that the International Whaling Commission is forced to recalculate all its statistics and recovery rates for the great whale species.
An estimated 500,000 small whales, porpoises and dolphins are killed annually by hunting or through being caught in nets. Most evident is the destruction of whales and dolphins, although the latter are often killed inadvertently in the process of netting tuna or through the use of drift nets.
If Japan and Norway succeeds at overturning the CITES trade ban, the resumption of a legal trade in whale products would also open the door to illegal whaling. Pirate whalers will put both abundant and endangered species of whales at risk. Japan and Norway should immediately withdraw their proposals, stop wasting the time of the CITES meeting and undermining international efforts to protect whales.
Fish-eating whales are vermin which should be kept to a minimum because they endanger those whose welfare depends on the fishing industry. The worst offender is the minke whale. In the case of Norway, if the stock of sea mammals was reduced to extinction, that country's estimated annual fisheries income would increase from £100 million to £250 million per year. Employment would increase from 25,200 jobs to 65,500. However, it is recognized that it would not be economic to hunt the whales to extinction because of the cost of locating the last few specimens.