Jan 13

A proposed quota market could help to reduce the number of marine mammals killed each year, by allowing conservation groups to ‘purchase’ whales lives.

Common minke whale image

Common minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)

A price tag on whales

Despite a global ban on commercial whaling introduced in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), whaling still continues today. While a certain number of whales are allowed to be caught by indigenous peoples, countries such as Iceland and Norway continue to catch whales commercially. Japan continues to hunt whales by exploiting a loophole, hunting whales under an exemption for “scientific” whaling.

The number of whales caught each year has even increased since the ban was introduced, almost doubling to 2,000 individuals when compared with the numbers caught in the early 1990s.

The proposed quota system would set limits on the number of whales each country could hunt, and these quotas could then be traded and bought between countries, or by environmental groups. By selling their quota, whalers would then be able to make a profit without killing the animals.

Fin whale image

Fin whale being processed

Sustainable quotas

While scientists propose that this quota system may actually reduce the number of whales killed each year, some conservationists may not be happy with the placing of a ‘price tag’ on the life of a whale. Currently, the profit from whaling stands at around $13,000 (£8,500) for a minke whale, and $85,000 (£55,400) for an endangered fin whale.

Scientists say that by using the money environmental organisations usually spend on anti-whaling operations to purchase whale quota, the number of whales caught could potentially be reduced to zero.

The proposed quotas would be issued at sustainable levels, with the majority being issued to both whaling and non-whaling IWC member nations, and the remainder being auctioned with the proceeds going to whale conservation.

Fin whale image

An endangered fin whale

An end to the deadlock?

A previous attempt to introduce a whaling quota in 2010 failed due to objections from anti-whaling groups who felt that quotas would legitimise commercial whaling. Scientists hope that the proposed tradable whaling quota would break the deadlock, creating a market that would be economically and ecologically viable to both sides of the whaling argument.

Read more about this story in The Guardian, Quota market could save whales.

Read the original article in Nature: Conservation science: A market approach to saving the whales.

View images and videos of whales on ARKive.

Becky Moran, ARKive Species Text Author