Breaching humpback whale

Saving whales, dolphins and porpoises

Since our first whaling investigation in 1984, we have been committed to ensuring the survival of whales, dolphins and porpoises. We have proved that a small, dedicated organisation can make a world of difference.

Jennifer Lonsdale OBE, EIA Co-Founder and Senior Ocean Campaigner

Our campaign to save whales

Whales at the centre of our Ocean Campaign

Saving whales is not just at the heart of our Ocean Campaign, it’s the reason why the Environmental Investigation Agency was set up in the first place.

EIA was born out of two ground-breaking whaling investigations. In 1983, three friends, Allan Thornton, Jennifer Lonsdale and Dave Currey, and their crew sailed to Norway and successfully documented the hunting of minke whales. The documentation brought world attention to the hunt and contributed to Norway’s whaling quota being cut by two-thirds.

In 1984, Jennifer and Dave travelled to the Faroe Islands to investigate its pilot whale hunt [link to ‘Investigating pilot whale hunts in the Faroe Islands’ further down]. It was the world’s largest whale hunt, yet hardly anyone knew about it.

Later that year, Allan, Dave and Jennifer agreed to found EIA and launched the Faroe Islands pilot whale campaign, including EIA’s first-ever report Pilot Whaling in the Faroe Islands, produced by hand, on the findings of the 1984 investigation.

Commercial whaling was banned in 1986, yet the killing has continued. EIA has campaigned constantly to uphold and strengthen the ban and to address other threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises such as climate change, pollution and bycatch (unintential catching).

Our work to save whales, dolphins and porpoises

For more than three-and-a-half decades, EIA has fought to save whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans. Our campaigns and investigations have enabled us to build up an in-depth knowledge of the issues involved and an extensive network of like-minded organisations around the world.

Our researchers and investigators gather information about the extent of the threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises from commercial whale and dolphin hunting to the dangers posed by climate change, chemical and plastic pollution, bycatch and noise pollution.

With this information, we produce reports and briefings for governments and the media, presenting recommendations for action at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We also work collaboratively with NGOs around the world to raise awareness and bring about change.

Our work to protect cetaceans includes:

About whales, dolphins and porpoises

Whales, dolphins and porpoises are marine mammals which play a vital role in marine ecosystems. Collectively, they are are known as cetaceans – a word that derives from the Latin for ‘large sea creature’ and the Greek for ‘sea monster’.

There are two types of cetaceans:

  • species with teeth, the Odontoceti. They include the sperm whale, orca (killer whale), beluga, narwhals and beaked whales. All species of dolphin are toothed cetaceans, as well as all types of porpoises, including the Dall’s porpoise which can reach speeds of up to 30mph, and the vaquita, the smallest cetacean, which is also the most endangered;
  • species with baleen, the Mysticeti. Also called baleen whales, these species have baleen plates made of keratin instead of teeth, which they use to filter food. The Mysticeti are generally larger than the Odontoceti. They include the magnificent blue whale, the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth, which can reach a length of more than 30m. Fin, humpback, minke and gray whales also fall into this category.

Cetaceans are highly social animals that build complex communities, sometimes co-operating to hunt for food, raise their young and support sick members of their group.

Cetaceans have developed some of the most sophisticated forms of communication in the animal world. Dolphins whistle, squeak and click to each other from birth. Toothed whales also communicate through high-frequency clicks and whistles, while baleen whales use long, low-frequency sounds. Humpback whales sing complex songs with repeated patterns which have been found to travel thousands of miles through the ocean.

Whales: the guardians of the ocean

Whales provide incredible services for the ocean and coastal communities, playing such an important role that scientists call them ‘ecosystem engineers’. Whales do more than simply guard the ocean – they nurture it.

Whales contribute to marine ecosystems and coastal life by:

  • whale pump – by diving to the ocean depths to feed and through releasing faecal plumes at the surface, whales perform a pump-like function which carries important nutrients such as nitrogen and iron to surface waters. Whales also transfer nutrients across the lengths of the ocean when migrating great distances from feeding to calving areas, known as the whale conveyer belt. This provides nourishment for drifting phytoplankton – the base of the food web upon which all marine species depend;
  • whale falls – whales play a role in the ocean’s carbon cycle, which in turn could help limit the impacts of climate change. Much as forests do on land, these ocean giants help capture carbon, both directly when they die and fall to the sea floor and indirectly through their multiplier effect on phytoplankton;
  • stabilising ocean ecosystems – as large and long-lived creatures at the top of the food chain, whales bring stability to ocean ecosystems. Scientific research suggests this can make marine systems less vulnerable to external pressures;
  • supporting tourism – on top of the benefits they offer to marine ecosystems, whales and dolphins can provide a boost to coastal tourism as a major wildlife attraction. Whale watching is a global industry, valued at more than $2 billion a year. Responsible whale watching guidelines and principles have been established by organisations including the International Whaling Commission (IWC);
  • whale worth – a 2019 IMF report estimated the value of the average great whale at more than $2 million and more than $1 trillion for the current stock of great whales.

Tackling unsustainable commercial whaling

EIA’s first official campaign in 1985 was to expose and campaign against the Faroese pilot whale hunt. Since that time, we have steadfastly campaigned for an end to all commercial whaling as it is cruel, unnecessary and unsustainable.

Investigating pilot whale hunts in the Faroe Islands

Before EIA existed, in 1984  Jennifer Lonsdale and Dave Currey travelled to the Faroe Islands to investigate the pilot whale hunt.

Although the International Whaling Commission (IWC) had agreed an international ban on commercial whaling, this did not apply to pilot whales as they are considered to be small whales. The Faroese Government had also instigated a hunt of up to five fin whales a year, supposedly for ‘scientific’ research.

One morning we came across a kill of 54 whales that had just taken place in Fuglafjørður, so we joined the people on the beach. A team of officials measured and marked the whales.

Wading about in whale blood all afternoon was unpleasant, but we knew we were gathering important information and learned so much. Many people seemed ignorant of the global opposition to the hunting of whales and the ban on commercial whaling.

Jennifer Lonsdale OBE, EIA Founder and Senior Ocean Campaigner

On their return, Dave and Jennifer typed up a report on their findings, Pilot Whaling in the Faroe Islands, made 100 copies and distributed them. This was EIA’s first-ever report.

The success of the Norway and Faroe Islands trips encouraged Lonsdale, Thornton and Currey to form EIA in September 1984. A year later, they returned to the Faroes where they documented the killing of 200 whales. The films and photographs they took were broadcast around the world, putting pressure on the Faroese Government to end this cruel slaughter, which frequently left animals thrashing in agony and suffering a protracted death.

EIA’s second report on the hunt, Pilot Whaling in the Faroe Islands, examined the background and history of the slaughter of pilot whales and assessed the claims made by Faroese authorities in support of the kills.

It concluded that much-heralded changes in domestic whale hunting regulations amounted to nothing more than a public relations exercise to diffuse international opposition.

As a result of EIA interventions in the Faroe Islands:

  • the numbers of whales killed was significantly reduced;
  • regulations were changed to eliminate the worst of the cruelty;
  • the Faroese Government decided to stop fin whaling.

When the founders of EIA first visited the Faroe Islands in 1984, it was a crucial moment for commercial whaling. A moratorium had been agreed in 1982, but was not due to come into force until 1986.

Here we take a look at the history of commercial whaling from the 1860s through to the moratorium in 1986 and up until the present day.

A history of commercial whaling

The shameful history of commercial whaling is well documented. The 1860s are recognised as the beginning of the modern commercial whaling era, which grew rapidly with the introduction of explosive grenade harpoons combined with steam-powered ships.

During the 20th century, 2.9 million whales were killed by the whaling industry, which is probably the largest removal of any animal in terms of total biomass in human history.

20th century whale slaughter

  • 2.9

    Million whales killed by the whaling industry

  • 90%

    of blue whales killed

  • 70%

    of sperm whales killed

Whale populations largely destroyed

As a result of commercial whaling on such a massive scale, whale populations were destroyed, with sperm whales reduced to about 30 per cent of their pre-whaling population and blue whales depleted by up to 90 per cent. Some estimates suggest that the overall biomass of large whales was reduced to less than 20 per cent of original levels.

Fin and sperm whales comprised more than 50 per cent of all large whales killed, but a range of other species were also targeted, including blue, sei, Bryde’s, minke, right and gray whales. Population after population was depleted, with some completely eradicated. Blue whales were reduced to approximately one per cent of their historical abundance in the Southern Hemisphere.

Moratorium on commercial whaling agreed

As early as the 1920s, it was recognised that whales were over-exploited and the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was set up in 1946. Initially a whalers’ club, the IWC gradually increased its focus on protecting and saving whales.

In the 1960s, whaling peaked, with an estimated 437,920 animals killed in the Southern Hemisphere and 265,315 in the Northern Hemisphere.

The hunting of blue and humpback whales was banned globally in 1966 and the hunting of fin whales in the Southern Hemisphere was banned in 1976.

In a landmark agreement in 1982, IWC members approved a moratorium on commercial whaling that became effective in 1986.

Whale populations slow to recover

 This moratorium saved several whale species from extinction and allowed some populations to recover. However, humpback, southern right, north Atlantic right and Antarctic blue whales remain at a fraction of their pre-exploitation levels, while others such as sperm, fin and possibly sei whales are also still significantly reduced.

Japan, Norway and Iceland are still killing whales

Despite the 1986 moratorium and the promising redirection of the IWC towards a science-based cetacean conservation body, Japan, Norway and Iceland continue commercial whaling.

Japan, Norway and Iceland have killed more than 40,000 whales since 1986.

Our 2018 report, Commercial whaling: Unsustainable, inhumane, unnecessary, produced jointly with the Animal Welfare Institute, investigated how these three countries are continuing to pursue commercial whaling.

All three have evaded the ban on whaling:

  • Japan allowed the hunting of whales in the Antarctic, North Pacific and its coastal waters. Initially, it was carried out under objection to the moratorium but Japan withdrew the objection under pressure from the US and then started whaling for ‘scientific research’. In 2019, Japan left the IWC and now carries out commercial whaling in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone;
  • Norway lodged an objection to the moratorium which allows it to continue commercial whaling;
  • Iceland has a disputed reservation to the moratorium, which it has used to justify commercial catch quotas since 2006. In 2006, the country resumed commercial whaling, targeting endangered fin whales as well as minke whales.

Whaling in Iceland

In 2018, new whaling quotas for the next five years were announced by the Government of Iceland

Whaling belongs only in the history books – and history, in both the near- and long-term, will judge Iceland harshly for continuing to exploit endangered marine species.

Clare Perry, EIA Ocean Campaign Leader

Whaling in Norway

  • Before the moratorium took effect, Norway killed an average of 2,000 minke whales a year
  • In 1993, Norway resumed commercial whaling under its objection to the moratorium.

Norway formally lodged an objection to the ban, allowing its commercial whaling industry to continue after 1986. Initially, this was done under the ‘special permit’ provision which allows IWC Contracting Governments to “kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research”.

Since 2014, the number of vessels engaged in the Norwegian whaling industry has declined and the number of whales killed consistently falls far short of the quotas issued by the Government.

Whaling in Japan

  • At least 3,500 supermarkets have stopped selling whale and dolphin products in Japan as a result of EIA’s campaigning
  • In a 2012 survey, 85 per cent of Japanese citizens polled opposed the use of taxpayer yen to build a new whaling factory ship.

After becoming bound to the global ban in 1987, the Japanese Government began issuing special permits for lethal research – initially in the Antarctic and later in the North Pacific too. The country’s ‘scientific’ whaling has been repeatedly criticised by scientists, governments and the International Court of Justice (ICJ), as well as by the IWC.

Although Japan initially complied with an ICJ ruling in 2014 and suspended its hunt, it quickly replaced the condemned research programme with another, which proposed to kill up to 333 minke whales a year until 2027.

In 2018, after failing once again to persuade the IWC to sanction the resumption of commercial whaling, the Japanese Government announced its decision to leave the IWC and carry out commercial whaling in its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. A 2019 catch quota of 52 minke whales, 150 Bryde’s whales and 25 sei whale was set by Japan. EIA witnessed the landing of the first minke in Japan’s new pirate whale hunt on 1 July 2019.

In its third year, the whaling industry is still relying on Government subsidies and demand for whale products from the hunts is low. Despite this, Kyodo Senpaku, the company that operates the whaling, has announced its intention to build a new whaling mothership, which will be operational by 2024.

Although viewed as the main market globally for edible whale products, whale meat is not commonly eaten in Japan. Major Japanese supermarkets and online retailers, including chains such as AEON, Ito-Yokado, Seiyu and Rakuten, have now stopped selling whale and dolphin products.

Why the killing must stop

Propped up by Government subsidies and support, commercial whaling in the 21st century flies in the face of international environmental agreements while serving no economic or nutritional need.

Commercial whaling:

  • causes inherent and unacceptable suffering to thousands of animals;
  • deprives the marine environment and coastal communities of the multiple ecological, climate and economic benefits that whales provide;
  • undermines the conservation of targeted populations that face ever-increasing threats from other human activities.

It is time for commercial whaling to end and for IWC Contracting Governments to reaffirm the continuation of the moratorium and promote to the fullest extent the conservation of all cetaceans.

Exposing dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan

In 2000, we brought the notorious Taiji dolphin hunts to the attention of the world’s media. Our investigators documented the killing and capture of dolphins by hunters in the town of Taiji. Pods of wild dolphins are driven from the ocean into a small cove, where they are either slaughtered for their meat or taken captive for shows in aquariums.

Read Report: Towards extinction 

The dolphin meat is frequently contaminated with high levels of mercury and other toxic elements. The live dolphins captured for the aquarium trade are subjected to a lifetime of captivity and deprivation for the sake of human entertainment.

The conservation and welfare needs of wild dolphin populations in Japan are being entirely ignored in order to supply the captive dolphin industry and a limited demand for dolphin meat as a food source. Neither trade has any place in modern society.

Clare Perry, EIA Ocean Campaign Leader

Documenting the hunting of Dall’s porpoises

Dall's porpoises unloaded for sale at Otsuchi, Japan

Otsuchi, in northern Japan, is the focal point of the hand harpoon hunt which has claimed up to 15,000 Dall’s porpoises in previous years.

For three decades, EIA has monitored and documented the hunting of Dall’s porpoises and other small cetaceans in Japan’s coastal waters. Our work has resulted in a significant decline in demand for all cetacean products.

Pressure from EIA has also led to many fewer Dall’s porpoises being killed, from more than 40,000 in 1988 to about 5,000 in 2010.

As a result of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, many of the hunting boats and numerous hunters were lost. The numbers of Dall’s porpoises killed reduced significantly and have not recovered to pre-disaster levels.

However, the hunting of about 800 Dall’s porpoises continues each year and EIA is concerned to note the sale of Dall’s porpoises in Nagano, a market not previously known to EIA. We continue to monitor catches and sales of Dall´s porpoise products.

Highlighting the threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises

Since the moratorium on commercial whaling was agreed, the intensification of human activities has wrought unprecedented changes on the marine environment upon which cetaceans depend.

The world’s oceans are in an increasingly fragile state and there now exists even greater cause for concern – and doubt about the ability of cetacean populations to withstand direct hunting – than ever before. There is a pressing need to better protect cetacean populations from anthropogenic threats to allow them a fighting chance in the face of unprecedented environmental changes.

At such a time, the role of the moratorium in protecting cetacean populations from direct commercial hunting has never been so important.

Our 2016 report Plight of the Ocean Sentinels outlines the major environmental activities that threaten the survival of the great whales and their cetacean cousins – dolphins and porpoises.

Climate change

Ocean changes due to climate change are likely to pose one of the greatest threats to cetacean populations, through ocean acidification, melting of ice sheets, changes in ocean temperature, disruption of food chains and changes in the supply and cycling of nutrients.

Marine debris

Plastics form the vast majority of marine debris, from packaging-related litter, fishing lines and nets to microplastics and nanoplastics. The equivalent of a full rubbish truck of plastic waste is dumped into the ocean every minute. Plastic pollution poses a serious threat to cetaceans when they ingest plastic waste or become entangled in plastic including abandoned fishing gear.

Read Report: Dying at our convenience

Chemical pollution

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are chemicals that were used in plastics, paints and electrical equipment. Although they were banned in the 1970s, they have created a toxic legacy for certain toothed cetaceans, particularly killer whales, striped and bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises. They are known to cause immunosuppression and to impair reproduction and are likely to affect cetacean populations in Europe for decades to come.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 had a disastrous impact on cetaceans.  This was the largest spill in marine oil drilling history involving a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico which exploded and sank with four million barrels of oil being released over more than 80 days until it was finally capped. Evidence suggests there was up to a 51 per cent reduction in the dolphin population in the local area.


Bycatch – the process whereby marine species are caught unintentionally – is one of the primary direct threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises worldwide. The vaquita will be extinct within a few years unless bycatch in gillnets is completely eliminated from its habitat in the Upper Gulf of California, Mexico.

Other cetaceans threatened by bycatch include: populations of harbour porpoise in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea; the franciscana, dusky dolphins, Chilean dolphins and Commerson’s dolphins in South America; Hector’s dolphins in New Zealand; J-stock minke whales in Japan and South Korea; Indo-Pacific and humpback dolphins off the coast of South Africa and Tanzania; common and striped dolphins in Peru, Ecuador and the Mediterranean; North Atlantic right whales off the east coast of the US; sperm whales in the Mediterranean; and populations of finless porpoises and river dolphin species in Asia.

Noise pollution

Cetaceans live in a world of sound, using acoustics to perform vital activities in their life cycle including communication, mating behaviours, navigation and locating prey and predators. As the quantity and level of anthropogenic sound increases in our ocean, so the ability of cetaceans to perform these key tasks is affected, with impacts ranging from chronic stress, deafness, increased energy expenditure, habitat displacement and reduced communication range through to mortality.

Key sources of noise pollution include sonar, seismic surveys and shipping as well as pile-driving, drilling and dredging.

Campaigning at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises

We have unwaveringly campaigned at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to maintain and strengthen the international commercial whaling ban, commonly known as the moratorium, that provides vital protection for the great whales.

With a combination of credible scientific research, multiple reports and advocacy over 35 years, we have continued to highlight the increasing human threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises in addition to hunting and have been a key force in expanding the IWC’s work to address them.

EIA co-founder Allan Thornton was already involved in the battle to save cetaceans before EIA was formed. He set up Greenpeace UK, bought the Rainbow Warrior and masterminded its campaign against Icelandic whaling.

In the early 1980s, Allan began attending IWC annual meetings, working with other NGOs and governments to persuade the IWC to agree an international ban on commercial whaling.

Spotlighting ‘forgotten’ small cetaceans

Once the moratorium was implemented in 1986, EIA began to draw the IWC’s attention to the plight of the ‘forgotten’ smaller whales, dolphins and porpoises often referred to as small cetaceans.

In 1986, EIA began submitting papers on the Faroe Islands’ pilot whale hunt to the IWC, resulting in the adoption of three IWC resolutions pressuring the Faroese Government to address the inherent cruelty and dramatic increase in the number of whales killed. This resulted in improvements to killing methods and reductions in numbers killed.

In 1990, EIA published the Global War Against Small Cetaceans, the first of three reports exposing the annual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of small cetaceans around the world, calling on the IWC to act.

Tackling the Dall’s porpoise hunt

We worked with the UK Government to propose a resolution in 1990 on the Dall’s porpoise hunt, which had increased from about 10,000 a year to more than 40,000 after the moratorium was implemented. This was the first small cetacean resolution ever adopted by the IWC and the start of a new era..Japan initially promised to abide by the Resolution and the catch reduced from more than 40,000 to 11,000 in 1992.

Pushing environmental concerns up the agenda

In the early 1990s, only five years after the moratorium was implemented, some scientists claimed slow-breeding whales were beginning to recover and the ban may not be justified. At the same time, the ozone hole and climate change were becoming widely recognised as serious global threats, the impacts of ocean pollution were being noted and untold numbers of cetaceans were dying in fishing nets.

EIA argued long and hard that a sustainable catch limit could not be calculated unless the impact of environmental threats on whale populations was clearly understood. This resulted in environmental concerns becoming a standing item on the IWC’s Scientific Committee agenda and, subsequently, at annual meetings. This work, initially dismissed by some as an insignificant ‘side line’, is now the primary focus of much of the IWC’s work.

Although opinions over commercial whaling are divided, most IWC member recognises that all cetaceans face significant threats from overfishing, climate change, chemical and plastic pollution and other man-made impacts on the oceans and that the IWC has an important role in mitigating these threats.

Looking ahead 50 years

The next 50 years will be critical for the future of the planet but represent just two generations for the largest whales. As the IWC approaches its 75th anniversary in 2021, its 68th meeting in 2022 provides the perfect opportunity to define a clear 50-year vision that goes beyond managing whaling and establishes the IWC at the centre of global efforts to conserve all cetaceans and enable them to meet their full ecological potential as engineers of a healthy marine environment.

As part of a coalition of NGOs, EIA is contributing to the production of a 50-year vision for the IWC.

The issue of plastic pollution within the IWC is key to developing our 50-year vision which establishes the IWC at the centre of global efforts to conserve all cetaceans.

EIA reports and advocacy to the IWC

Over the years, EIA has produced many reports which have aimed to influence the IWC’s important work to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises. They include:

Highlighting the issue of toxic whale and dolphin meat

EIA has campaigned for many years to raise awareness of the issue of toxic whale and dolphin meat.

Co-founder Dave Currey photographing whale meat in a market, Japan (c) EIAimage

The Government of Japan continues to recklessly expose its citizens to heavily polluted whale and dolphin products. Much of this meat is contaminated with excessive levels of mercury and other marine pollutants such as carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

However, many Japanese citizens are largely unaware of the risks to human health of consuming cetacean meat and blubber, which is often contaminated with toxins at considerably higher levels than those officially recommended by the Japanese Government.

In our 2015 report Dangerous Diet, we outlined the significant risks to human health posed by eating whale, dolphin and porpoise products which are frequently toxic and mislabelled.

The report found that whale, dolphin and porpoise products sold for human consumption in Japan continue to consistently exceed the country’s provisional regulatory limits for mercury, methylmercury and PCBs at levels tens to thousands of times higher than domestic and international safe limits.

Given that food products from coastal whales, dolphins and porpoises almost without exception exceed advisory limits for mercury, we urged that the Government of Japan should permanently ban these products for human consumption. We also pressed the Government to phase out all whale, dolphin and porpoise hunts.

Dall’s porpoise hunts: source of toxic, unwanted meat

Dall’s porpoise products are highly contaminated with toxic pollutants and yet they continue to be freely available in Japanese markets and supermarkets.

For some 30 years, we have been monitoring and documenting the annual Dall’s porpoise hunts that are the source of these products. We wanted to raise awareness of the cruelty of the hunts, the threat to Dall’s porpoise populations and the hunts’ negative impact on marine conservation. Otsuchi, in northern Japan, is the focal point of these hand harpoon hunts which have claimed hundreds of thousands of Dall’s porpoises over the years.

We have also carried out research into the toxicity of porpoise products. Eight Dall’s porpoise blubber products analysed by Japanese scientists, commissioned by us, revealed high PCB levels, with one product purchased in Shizuoka, near Tokyo, having a concentration of 4ppm, a startling eight times higher than the regulatory level of 0.5ppm.

We have strived to let Japan’s consumers know that they are purchasing contaminated products with potentially very serious impacts on human health.

The vast majority of Japanese citizens are kept in ignorance of the Dall’s hunt, of dangers posed by the toxic meats the Government is allowing them to purchase and even, in many cases, of the actual species they are eating. Almost 190,000 Dall’s porpoises have been slaughtered in the past two decades – and all to produce products for which there is barely any demand and sparking repeated condemnation from the IWC.

Clare Perry, EIA Ocean Campaign Leader

Persuading businesses to stop selling whale, dolphin and porpoise products

We have steadfastly campaigned to reduce market demand for whale, dolphin and porpoise products by targeting governments and retailers, as well as raising awareness of the health and environmental issues with consumers.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has banned international trade in the products of whale species listed on the treaty’s Appendix I.

However, Japan, Norway and Iceland took reservations to the CITES Appendix I whale listings, enabling them to trade in whale meat with other nations holding the same reservations or with non-Parties to CITES.

Whale meat is not widely consumed in any of these countries, despite the best efforts of government-backed marketing campaigns:

  • in 2017, just one per cent of Icelanders said they ate whale meat regularly and 82 per cent claimed to have never eaten it at all;
  • in Japan, average consumption of whale meat was just 30g per person in 2015. Japanese commercial whaling companies are struggling to sell the products from recent hunts;
  • demand in Norway is so low that 60 tonnes of whale meat had to be given away in 2017 due to poor sales.

Targeting businesses

EIA parody of Rakuten adverts, used in our campaign to pressure the company to cease whale meat sales (c) EIA

In Japan, our campaigns have persuaded more than 3,500 supermarkets to stop selling cetacean products. Subsequently, we successfully took the fight to the key online marketplaces of Amazon Japan, Google and Rakuten. Our campaigns also took Japan’s three main fishing companies – Nippon Suisan, Kyokuyo and Maruha – permanently out of the whaling business.

Investigating Iceland’s whaling kingpin

In recent years, we have investigated and exposed Icelandic whaling driven by multi-millionaire Kristján Loftsson and his company Hvalur. Our report Slayed in Iceland: the commercial hunting and international trade in endangered fin whales revealed that Hvalur kept shipments of fin whale products flowing, exploiting a limited demand for whale meat and blubber in Japan.

Hvalur recently sparked global outrage when it announced plans to use fin whale meat, blubber and bones in iron supplements and other medicinal or food products. EIA continues to monitor the company’s activities, joining with other NGOs to keep up the pressure on Hvalur.

Raising awareness with airlines and tourists

Iceland’s whale watching industry has grown substantially since its inception in 1991 when 100 people took part in a whale watch tour. Hundreds of thousands of the more than two million tourists visiting Iceland’s each year enjoy at-sea encounters with humpback, fin and minke whales and other species.

Yet, back on shore, tourists are significant consumers of whale meat. Many of the minke whales killed each year end up in restaurants, as well as grocery stores, falsely marketed to tourists as traditional local dishes. Now, with no minke whaling in Iceland, some minke whale products are being imported into Iceland. Carved whale bone, baleen and teeth are also sold as tourist souvenirs, even though the vast majority of countries prohibit the import of whale products.

EIA has joined forces with other NGOs to urge airlines not to promote consumption and purchase of whale products to passengers.

We also encourage tourists not to eat whale meat in Iceland, Norway, Japan and Greenland and to support responsible whale watching.

Fighting the plastic pollution that threatens marine life

Building on our original campaign to protect cetaceans from hunting and non-hunting threats, in recent years our work has expanded significantly to address broader marine issues concerning the health of the environments in which these magnificent creatures live, especially the problem of marine plastic pollution.

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We first drew attention to the issue of marine plastic pollution in 2001 through our work assessing global threats to whales, dolphins and porpoises and, via scientific papers and reports to the IWC, have contributed to that organisation’s work to address marine litter.

We became more active on plastics at the legislative level in 2013, with our work on plastic bags helping to secure measures to reduce use of plastic carrier bags in the UK and Europe. In 2016, we formed the Microbead Coalition with Fauna & Flora International, Greenpeace UK and Marine Conservation Society, successfully campaigning for the UK Government to adopt a world-leading ban on microbeads in cosmetics and personal care products which will prevent countless billions of microplastic particles entering our seas every day.

As part of the Rethink Plastic Alliance, we have helped strengthen EU legislation on plastics and waste. Internationally, we are a founding member of the #BreakFreeFromPlastic movement, working to secure the adoption of a UN initiative to tackle marine plastic pollution at a global level.

How you can help us save whales, dolphins and porpoises

Three dolphins, under water

EIA is one of the top 20 most effective environmental charities, according to the Environmental Funders Network.

Please donate today to support our vital work to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) and their marine environment.

Given our decades of experience in saving whales, dolphins and porpoises, we have the expertise, knowledge and connections to protect them from the many threats they face.

Please support our work to protect cetaceans from hunting, bycatch, chemical and plastic pollution, entanglement, ship strikes and climate change. Any donation you are able to make today will help us save whales, dolphins and porpoises and preserve the oceans that are their home.