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Under the terms of the 1986 moratorium on whaling, the International Whaling Commission allows whaling carried out by aboriginal groups if it occurs on a subsistence basis, known as Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling. Whaling of this type is restricted to native peoples and others working on their behalf, as defined by the International Whaling Commission.
The IWC says that:
- Since its inception, the IWC has recognised that indigenous or ‘aboriginal subsistence’ whaling is of a different nature to commercial whaling. It is thus not subject to the moratorium. This is reflected in the different objectives for the two types of whaling. For aboriginal subsistence whaling the objectives are to:
- ensure that risks of extinction are not seriously increased by whaling;
- enable native people to hunt whales at levels appropriate to their cultural and nutritional requirements (also called ‘need’); and
- move populations towards and then maintain them at healthy levels.
In order for a country to carry out a hunt under the aboriginal group clause, the nation must provide the IWC with evidence of "the cultural and subsistence needs of their people." In particular, the hunt is not intended for commercial purposes and the caught meat cannot be exported.
United States whaling
In the United States whaling is carried out by Alaska Natives from nine different communities in Alaska. The whaling programme is managed by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission which reports to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The commission includes eleven whaling communities who inhibit the Arctic Alaska coast: the Gambell, Savoonga, Wales, Little Diomede, Kicalina, Point Hope, Point Lay, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, and Kaktovik.
The hunt takes around 75 bowhead whales a year from a population of about 10,000 in Alaskan waters. Anti-whaling groups claim this hunt is not sustainable, though the IWC Scientific Committee, the same group that provided the above population estimate, projects a population growth of 3.2% per year. The hunt also took an average of one or two gray whales each year until 1996. The quota was reduced to zero in that year due to concerns about sustainability. The hunts are now allowed to take 744 gray whales between 2013-2018, but the maximum amount in any one year is 140.
According to federal law, the Makah people of Washington State are entitled to hunt and kill one baleen whale, typically a gray whale, each year, though archeological records and oral history indicate a significant number of humpback whales were hunted as well. The Makah ended their whaling practices in the 1920s but notify the U.S Government of their wish to reassert their whaling rights in 1995. The first Makah whale hunt in 70 years occurred on May 17, 1999, when they caught a north Pacific gray whale.
Canada left the IWC in 1982 and as such is not bound by the moratorium on whaling. Canadian whaling is carried out by various Inuit groups around the country in small numbers and is managed by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Some whaling is conducting from Grenada, Dominica and Saint Lucia. Species hunted are the Short-finned Pilot Whale, Pygmy Killer Whale and Spinner Dolphins. Throughout the Caribbean, around 400 Pilot Whales are killed annually with the meat being sold locally. This hunting of small cetaceans is not regulated by the IWC.
Limited numbers of Humpback Whales are hunted from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact, the whaling is carried out by a single elderly man and his nephew who carry out the hunt using simple hand-held harpoons and wooden rowing boats. The primitive nature of the hunt has caused it to become something of a spectacle on Bequia—the island from which the pair operate. Up until 2000, it was usual for the hunter to take two Humpbacks each year—one mother and one calf. In 2000, the IWC brought this quota down to two animals every three years. The unusual practice of taking a calf has caused great tension at IWC meetings—the anti-whaling side wanting it banned and the pro-whaling side saying it is no different from eating a lamb. The 2002 meeting reset the quota to a maximum of twenty animals between 2003–2007, with a review in 2005 to check that four animals per year was sustainable.
Lamalera, on the south coast of the island of Lembata, and Lamakera on neighbouring Solor are the last two remaining Indonesian whaling communities. The hunters have religious taboos that ensure that they use every part of the animal. About half of the catch is kept in the village; the rest is traded in local markets, using barter. The whale hunts are carried out in a traditional manner, with bamboo spears and small wooden outriggers, 10–12m long and 2m wide, constructed without nails and with sails woven from palm fronds. The animals are killed by the harpooner leaping onto the back of the animal, from the boat, to drive in the harpoon.
The people of Lamalera hunt several species of whales, primarily sperm whales (the baleen whale is taboo), and in the peak year of 1969 caught 56 sperm whales. In addition to whales, dolphins, manta rays, turtles and several species of sharks are also hunted. In 1973, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization sent a whaling ship and a Norwegian master whaler, to modernize the hunt. This effort lasted three years, and was not successful. According to the FAO report, the Lamalerans "have evolved a method of whaling which suits their natural resources, cultural tenets and style."
The World Wildlife Fund has carried out surveys in the village to determine that the limited hunting does not endanger world whale stocks or other endangered species.
Issues that threaten aboriginal whaling rights
Commercial whaling and poachers hunt whales in large quantities and sell them illegally. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) does not allow the hunting of any whales except for aboriginal subsistence whaling and scientific whaling, which have catch limits to maintain the conservation of whales. These groups must report their hunts and the number of whales killed in order to track the population of whale species and conservation. Hunting illegally means the kills are not reported, which makes it difficult to maintain population numbers and conservation.
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