Whales have been hunted for their meat and oil for centuries. In the 18th and 19th century, whaling became an industry. As time went on, whaling fleets caught more whales than the animals could reproduce. By 1930, 50,000 whales were killed every year.

In the 20th century factory ships revolutionized the whaling business. Whales were caught and processed on board. Advanced technology made it possible to track whales in the water.

Whaling is important in Norway, Iceland and other countries in the northern Atlantic as well as in Japan. For many years, the International Whaling Commission set quotas for each country. In 1986, it banned whaling altogether, so that the population would recover. Some countries in which whaling is a major source of income, including Iceland and Norway, do not obey the ban set by the International Whaling Commission, but have set their own catch quotas. Since the ban, over 30,000 whales have been killed. Japan, on the other side, allows whaling for research purposes. Whale meat has always been an important part of the Japanese diet.

The IWC allows some people to continue hunting whales, for example, the Inuit of the Arctic region. They rely on whale meat for food and use whale oil in everyday life.

Native Americans carving meat and fat out of whales
Image: Asahel Curtis , Public Domain via Wikipedia

All in all there are thirteen types of whales. Many of these species have been extremely decimated. Some are showing signs of population increase, but the blue and grey whales are still in danger of becoming extinct. There are other threats to whales as well. Some are killed through collision with ships, others by the loud noises that ocean vessels make.

Whales are important to humans for many reasons. In remote regions, whale oil is still used as fuel for lamps. It has also been widely used to make cosmetics, soap, candle wax and washing powder. For centuries, baleen was used to make roofs. Many cultures used the mammal’s bones to make tools and carve masks.

The future of whaling is unclear. Although environmentalists are constantly campaigning against hunting whales, countries like Norway and Japan claim it is deeply rooted in their country’s tradition.

Over the past decades , whale watching has become an important part of the tourist industry in many countries. It generates about $2 billion in income worldwide and employs 13,000 workers.

Whale watching off the coast off Maine, USA
Image: The original uploader was NightThree at English Wikipedia., CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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