Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the Whales” Campaign Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Animal Welfare Institute began a campaign to institute a moratorium on the killing of whales. After years of pressure, the IWC finally voted to ban commercial whaling.

Summary of Event

In 1937, the International Whaling Commission International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established with a view to regulating the yearly killing of whales. Despite the commission’s recommendations, the yearly kill of whales continued unabated, numbering some fifty thousand whales each year by the 1960’s. In part, the continued high kill was a result of an inability on the part of the scientific commission to enforce its recommendations. By the 1960’s, it had become clear that members of many species of whales were being killed at a rate beyond their ability to reproduce. Whalers used helicopters and radar to track whales, explosive harpoons caused painful death, and giant factory ships processed the animals as quickly as they were captured. An eighty-ton whale could be processed in thirty minutes. If the killing continued unabated, many species would be in danger of extinction. "Save the Whales" campaign[Save the Whales campaign] Animal Welfare Institute Marine life, protection Whaling;opposition [kw]Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the Whales” Campaign (Jan.-Mar., 1971) [kw]"Save the Whales" Campaign, Animal Welfare Institute Launches the (Jan.-Mar., 1971) [kw]Whales" Campaign, Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the (Jan.-Mar., 1971) [kw]Animal Welfare Institute Launches the ”Save the Whales" Campaign (Jan.-Mar., 1971) "Save the Whales" campaign[Save the Whales campaign] Animal Welfare Institute Marine life, protection Whaling;opposition [g]North America;Jan.-Mar., 1971: Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the Whales” Campaign[00140] [g]United States;Jan.-Mar., 1971: Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the Whales” Campaign[00140] [c]Animals and endangered species;Jan.-Mar., 1971: Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the Whales” Campaign[00140] [c]Environmental issues;Jan.-Mar., 1971: Animal Welfare Institute Launches the “Save the Whales” Campaign[00140] Stevens, Christine Morton, Rogers Hickel, Walter J. McVay, Scott

Prior to 1970, the United States, along with Japan and the Soviet Union, was among the leading countries in the world whose industries depended on whale by-products. Sulfurized whale oil obtained from the sperm whale Sperm whale oil was a major lubricant for machinery in the United States; the oil’s ability to withstand high temperatures and pressures made it ideal for this application. In addition, ambergris, a secretion of the sperm whale intestine used in the worldwide perfume industry, and spermaceti, a waxy oil obtained from the head of the sperm whale and used in the manufacture of cosmetics and candles, were important economic by-products of the whaling industry. The cat-food industry also relied heavily on whale meat. By 1970, however, the Sun Oil Company’s research center in Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, had developed a method for producing a synthetic sulfurized sperm oil. Likewise, substitutes for ambergris and spermaceti had also become available. The economic requirement for whale products was no longer justification for continued slaughter of the animals.

In 1970, the United States undertook specific actions to limit the killing of whales. The secretary of the interior at that time, Walter J. Hickel, added sperm and baleen whales to the Endangered Species List. Endangered species;whales In an interview that year, published in the December 14 issue of Sports Illustrated, Hickel pointed out that only between 600 and 3,000 large whales were believed to survive. The 100-ton blue whale, the largest animal on Earth, had declined in number from 100,000 in 1940 to fewer than 3,000 some thirty years later. Other species of whales, the humpback and the bowhead, were also approaching extinction. Scott McVay, the chairman of the Environmental Defense Fund, Environmental Defense Fund later pointed out that, with the elimination of the large whales, whaling concerns were pursuing smaller whales, and even porpoises, in order to harvest enough animals to support whaling industries economically. Secretary of Commerce Maurice H. Stans Stans, Maurice H. reinforced Hickel’s position by ordering a moratorium on the hunting of whales by the United States.

Rogers Morton, who succeeded Hickel as director of the Department of the Interior, continued and extended the ban. The United States would no longer be in the business of hunting whales. Ironically, the Federal Whale Research Program, Federal Whale Research Program the mission of which was to obtain reliable data on numbers of whales so that realistic protective quotas could be established, was in danger of being eliminated; the Department of the Interior was unwilling to appropriate the $65,000 needed to pay the program’s two staff biologists.

Recognizing such concerns, in early 1971 the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) began its campaign to eliminate, or at least to limit, the harvesting of whales. Along with the International Society for the Protection of Animals International Society for the Protection of Animals and the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, Society for Animal Protective Legislation the AWI proposed a moratorium of at least ten years on the killing of whales. The organizations also undertook lobbying efforts directed at relevant governments and at the International Whaling Commission.

The IWC met in Washington, D.C., in June, 1971, to address the problem; the meeting settled nothing. Both Japanese and Soviet whaling interests, which accounted for 80 percent of the destroyed whales, rejected any sensible quota system. Japan Japan;whaling claimed that whale meat was essential to the Japanese diet, accounting for 10 percent of the nation’s animal protein intake. The Soviet Union argued simple economics: It would be more economical to continue using its whaling fleets at full capacity as long as whales existed than to reduce the fleet and “mothball” the equipment. The result was an IWC quota equal to the high levels of previous years; only in the North Pacific Ocean were significant cutbacks made. It appeared that the United States would need to pressure these foreign governments to prevent the extinction of whales.

The lobbying of the AWI in the halls of Congress would be crucial in this campaign. In particular, Christine Stevens, president of the AWI, applied continual pressure on behalf of the whales. As a result, Senator Hugh D. Scott, Jr., Scott, Hugh D., Jr. from Pennsylvania authored a resolution that requested that the secretary of state call for a ten-year moratorium on the hunting of whales and dolphins. Despite opposition from U.S. whaling interests arguing for the need for whale oil in the defense industry, the resolution was passed. At a 112-nation meeting of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, Sweden, in June, 1972, the U.S. delegation introduced a proposal that called for a ten-year moratorium. Despite intense Japanese lobbying efforts to limit the moratorium to endangered whale stocks, the proposal was passed unanimously, with several nations, including Japan, abstaining. The Soviet Union did not attend the conference, having boycotted it in protest of the exclusion of East Germany. The voting illustrated that pressure could indeed be brought in the attempt to save the whales. The IWC, in its future meetings, could no longer ignore international pressure.


Despite the strong support by attendees at the meeting in Stockholm, when the IWC met on June 26 in London, little in the way of reduction of quotas was accomplished. Fourteen nations attended, but only the United States, Argentina, Mexico, and Great Britain supported a moratorium on whaling. Even Australia and Norway, which had favored the Stockholm proposal, voted against any moratorium. Russell E. Train, Train, Russell E. chairman of the U.S. delegation, was able to find some consensus on reduction of quotas for selective species, as in the case of finback whales, but the total quota was still placed at thirty-five thousand whales.

Meanwhile, the AWI, the Fund for Animals, Fund for Animals and other environmental groups continued to pressure governments on an international level. “Save the Whales” signs appeared during a state visit to the United States by the prime minister of Japan. Environmental organizations also began to threaten Japan with a boycott of Japanese goods unless Japanese whaling stopped.

The 1973 IWC meeting, held from June 25 to June 29 in London, demonstrated the progress that had been made. The United States again proposed a ten-year moratorium on whaling; this time the resolution passed with an eight-to-five vote with one abstention. The resolution was not binding, because IWC rules required a three-fourths majority, but the IWC was finally moving in the direction of a moratorium. In his opening speech, for example, Jack Davis, Davis, Jack the Canadian minister of the environment, announced that Canada had ended all whaling operations, closing its stations in Newfoundland and Nova Scotia.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) had committed the United States to a campaign of putting a stop to the slaughter of marine animals, including whales, seals, and porpoises. By 1973, the AWI, the Friends of the Earth, Friends of the Earth the National Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Federation and numerous other organizations had joined in a boycott of Japanese and Soviet goods. That year, even the AFL-CIO AFL-CIO[Aflcio] (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations) passed a resolution to save the whales. Over the next several years, under intense U.S. pressure, the IWC gradually began a reduction in quotas. Finally, in July of 1982, at its meeting at Brighton, England, the IWC voted twenty-five to seven to ban commercial whaling within three years.

The moratorium on the killing of whales took effect in 1986, although whaling never actually ceased. Some legal whaling was still allowed, such as for the purposes of scientific study or for subsistence use. An underground market for illegal whale products continues, a problem largely ignored by the IWC and one that is believed to be contributing to the slowness of the recovery of blue whales in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition, various countries from time to time defy the IWC. Twenty years after the moratorium was passed, pro-whaling nations led by Japan continued to push for a return to the 1946 mandate of regulating whaling rather than banning it outright. "Save the Whales" campaign[Save the Whales campaign] Animal Welfare Institute Marine life, protection Whaling;opposition

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Allen, Kenneth R. Conservation and Management of Whales. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980. This book deals less with the conflict between the whaling industry and environmental groups than with the application of modern methodology to the protection of whales and the study of their habits.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Day, David. The Whale War. San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1987. A description of the ongoing conflict between the whaling industry and environmentalists. Provides an interesting view of the politics of environmentalism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Donoghue, Michael, and Annie Wheeler. Save the Dolphins. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Sheridan House, 1990. Although emphasis is placed on the dolphin, the book discusses areas of relevance to all marine animals, such as threats by hunting or from pollution. The situation of the dolphin to a significant degree parallels that of the whales. Numerous photographs. Includes a list of societies dealing with survival or environmental issues.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mowat, Farley. A Whale for the Killing. Reprint. Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2005. An excellent source for reading about the majesty of the giant whales. This book by an outstanding Canadian author provides insight into the general plight of the whales.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Mulvaney, Kieran. The Whaling Season: An Inside Account of the Struggle to Stop Commercial Whaling. Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2003. Firsthand account of the author’s involvement in Greenpeace’s campaign to stop commercial whaling. History of the whaling industry and Greenpeace is given attention.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wong, Annie. The Roots of Japan’s Environmental Policies. New York: Garland, 2001. Presents Japan’s policies toward environmental and international issues. Chapter 4 focuses exclusively on Japan’s whaling policies.

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Categories: History