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Aboriginal whaling

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Title: Aboriginal whaling  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Whaling, Canada/Selected Did you know/76, Anti-whaling, Whaling in Japan, Canada/Did You Know/48
Collection: Indigenous Culture, Inuit Culture, Whaling
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Aboriginal whaling

Inuit subsistence whaling. A Beluga whale is flensed for its Maktaaq which is an important source of vitamin C in the diet of some Inuit.[1]

Aboriginal whaling is the hunting of whales carried out by aboriginal groups who have a tradition of whaling. (The hunting of smaller cetaceans is covered at Dolphin drive hunting.)

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.

The IWC says that:[2]

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 1
  • Russian whaling 2
  • Canadian whaling 3
  • Caribbean whaling 4
  • Indonesian whaling 5
  • References 6

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 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. A review set to take place in 2004 may result in the hunt being resumed.

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 archaeological records and oral history indicate a significant number of humpback whales were hunted as well.

Russian whaling

Russians of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug in the Russian Far East are permitted to take up to 140 Gray Whales from the North-East Pacific population each year.

Canadian whaling

Bowhead whale caught in Igloolik, Nunavut in 2002.

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.

Caribbean whaling

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. The meat is 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 re-set 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.

Indonesian whaling

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 using small wooden outriggers, 10–12 m long and 2 m 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 whale, primarily [3][4]

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.


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