Signed in 1946, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling aims to regulate whaling. In order to do this, the Convention has established the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which now has 88 member states. Although the historical role of the IWC is the regulation of hunting, IWC is now concerned about other threats to cetaceans. It plays an important role in scientific research, organises working groups and makes numerous recommendations. It also addresses issues of conservations that cover a significant and growing part of its work programme.
The IWC currently manages 13 species. Dealing mainly with large cetaceans (whales), the IWC has also been defending small cetaceans since 1976. The addition of new species to the Convention requires a political agreement between the parties. Legally, small cetaceans are not explicitly excluded from the scope of the IWC. A species of small cetaceans (killer whale) is specifically covered under the moratorium on commercial whaling.
At present, members of the IWC are divided into two camps: on the one hand the non-hunting States siding with the preservation of cetaceans and on the other hand the hunting States fighting for the lifting of the moratorium on commercial whaling.
The future of the IWC, especially its Commission, is the subject of a still ongoing political debate. For many countries, it has become unnecessary and ethically unacceptable to kill whales.