Commercial whaling in the 19th and 20th centuries brought many species of cetaceans to the brink of extinction. Because of this, a world-wide moratorium on most whaling went into effect in the late 20th century. Since then, many species have made astounding recoveries, and others are rebounding slowly. Because of these recent recoveries, some countries want to resume whale hunts. However, due to the growing popularity of whales, there is much public pressure to have the whaling ban perpetuated, perhaps forever.

Back in the days of commercial whaling, sometimes Orcas would be included in the catch by whalers. But they were not usually targeted since they didn't provide a rich source of food or oil. However, during the early 20th century it was common for fisherman to deliberately shoot killer whales when they encountered them because the orcas were perceived to be competition with the fishermen for the same fish schools. Additionally, some orcas were shot at as targets during World War II pilot training! Canadian pilots flying off shore would try to kill any orcas on sight in order to "improve" their skills as wingmen.

Lastly, another form of whaling posed a different kind of threat to orcas: live capture for captivity. The Orca’s popularity in seaquariums around the world made it a highly marketable species and created a demand for more and more live animals during the late 20th century. Unfortunately, at the beginning of this process many Orcas died while being captured or shortly thereafter. The many captures also very likely had long lasting negative impacts on the social structures of the targeted wild populations.

All of these threats are in the past however. In large part due to their tremendous popularity in marine parks, orcas are now thought of favorably by most people and at present there are no wild Killer Whales being hunted or captured any where in the world.

What's Being Done

The creation of the US Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972 protected Orcas and other species of marine mammals off the coast of the United States. It also made capturing these animals illegal. (As a consequence, most seaquariums have turned to breeding programs to sustain the populations that you see in captivity today.)

Whaling is not completely an idea of the past, however. Although the hunting of Orcas is not being considered anywhere, the high numbers of other species such as the Minke whale have led a few countries to consider the resumption of whaling. They claim that there is still a demand for whale products and that whaling is a legitimate cultural practice that deserves to be perpetuated. After all, even during the whaling moratorium, aboriginal groups in North America and Asia were always allowed a certain number of whale "takes" because it was part of their past culture. Now some nations like Norway and Japan are arguing that they too need different regulations to protect the interests of their own people and cultures.

What You Can Do

Write a letter of protest to the Embassy of any country that you learn may resume whale hunts. Some think that the most effective thing that you can say in such a letter is to tell them that as long as they allow whaling you will boycott all products produced in their nation.

Support the public relations efforts of conservation focused groups. Support them by financial donations and support them by providing your own time and efforts.

Become an advocate yourself. Spread the word to others about the possible resumption of whaling and get them to join you in opposition.

Content provided by Canisius College students under the direction of Michael Noonan, PhD.