Key measures of the IWC

Moratorium on commercial whaling

Entered into force in 1987, the moratorium on commercial whaling prohibits slaughter of cetaceans for commercial purposes. This rule does not apply to Norway and Iceland since these two countries raised objections. It must however be noted that the moratorium is a political act and is likely to be lifted at any time if the number of required votes is reached. Hunting countries hope that the moratorium will be lifted in the near future or attempt to circumvent it by seeking further exceptions. Others demand that the moratorium must continue, since this type of hunting is no longer justified in our times.

Quotas and indigenous hunting

Quotas are for subsistence hunting undertaken by local communities. They are awarded by the IWC to indigenous communities for meeting their nutritional and cultural needs. The number of animals that these communities are allowed to hunt is determined on a scientific basis, depending on the status of cetacean populations in question and the impact that hunting would have on these species. Presently it has been observed that the concept of subsistence is drifting towards commercialisation of whale meat from these quotas.

Scientific permits

The mechanism of scientific permits allows states, who so wish, to hunt whales for scientific purposes. At present, only Japan uses this system provided by the IWC. The states in question determine the number of permits issued, since the IWC has no decision-making power in the matter. Furthermore, in the past Iceland has developed a widely criticised scientific whaling program, which allows killing a number of whales according to their convenience. These permits are highly controversial because the number of cetaceans that can be killed in the guise of scientific hunting is potentially unlimited. In addition, they allow the slaughter of mothers and their calves, pregnant females, etc. While this type of hunting is supposed to have a scientific goal, the flesh of the killed animals is sold on the market. In some countries, it is offered to tourists (in restaurants, airports, etc.). It is therefore crucial to sensitise tourists to this issue. An alternative to scientific whaling is to promote research for maximising the conservation of whales as has been proposed by the Research Partnership programme in the Southern Ocean sanctuary (SORP).


One of the major and recurring topics of the Commission's high-profile annual meetings is whale sanctuaries. There are two types of sanctuaries: sanctuaries on the high seas and those in waters under national jurisdiction. To date, only the Indian Ocean Sanctuary and the Sanctuary of the Southern Seas exist. For several years, Argentina and Brazil with the Sanctuary of the South Atlantic Ocean on the one hand and Australia and New Zealand with the Sanctuary of the South Pacific Ocean on the other hand have proposed to establish new sanctuaries; these proposals have however not managed to garner the required number of votes.

Given the symbolic significance of the concept of a sanctuary, practical and effective protection measures are also needed, both by the IWC and the other international organisations (UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, CCAMLR, ATCM).

Protected marine areas in the high seas would be an important complementary tool to ensure the sustainability of cetacean populations and Belgium supports the process of establishing these zones.


Over the years, IWC has developed an ambitious conservation programme of large and small cetaceans that Belgium fully supports. Management plans for the conservation of some species have been established and voluntary national reports have been submitted to the IWC.
IWC's conservation program also encourages non-lethal use of cetaceans as an alternative to whaling. The main alternative is undoubtedly observing whales in their natural habitat. The tourist activity is booming (turnover of one billion dollars a year, exceeding that of the whaling industry), both in the Northern Hemisphere and in the Southern Hemisphere. IWC is also studying the impact of this activity on cetaceans.


Scientific activities of the IWC are of utmost importance. They endorse the scientific validity of the measures taken by the IWC towards conservation, regulation of catches and the promotion of economic and non-lethal scientific activities. The Scientific Committee is the main body of the IWC active in the field of small cetaceans. It studies the threats, assesses the status and makes recommendations on issues of management and conservation of small cetaceans. This committee should also serve as the scientific reference centre from which other international organisations (WHO, IMO, etc.) can draw upon for the adoption of management and mitigation measures.