Whaling: End of an Era

September 27, 1985

Report Outline
Commercial Phase-Out
Whaling's Long History
Chances for Survival
Special Focus

Commercial Phase-Out

1988 Projected End of Worldwide Operations

Herman Melville shipped out on the whaling vessel Acushnet early in 1841 from New Bedford, Mass., bound for Cape Horn and the South Pacific. The 22-year-old was between jobs during a period of hard times. But it was a boom time for the New England whaling industry. More than 700 American ships prowled the seas in search of whales during the 1840s. New Bedford was the busiest whaling port in the world. Crewing on a whaler was difficult and dangerous, and Melville left his ship in mid-voyage after 18 months. But his adventures were the fodder for Moby Dick, which many believe is the quintessential American novel.

Commercial whaling changed radically just a few years after the 1851 publication of Moby Dick. By the late 1860s the explosive harpoon had replaced the hand-thrown weapon used in Melville's day, and steam-powered catcher boats allowed whalers to hunt faster-swimming whales and to range farther in search of them. By the end of the 1930s whaling fleets from around the world had drastically depleted the numbers of eight of the nine largest species of whales, a group of mammals known as the great whales.

World War II interrupted nearly all commercial whaling, but in the late 1940s a handful of nations resumed operations. At the same time several nations with whaling industries took steps to ensure a continuous supply of whales, an effort that until recently was characterized more by political dissension than success. However, all but a handful of countries—notably the Soviet Union and Japan—have agreed to end commercial whaling in 1986, and those two countries have indicated they will end their operations in 1988.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Aquaculture and Maritime Policy
Oct. 2007  Oceans in Crisis
Jul. 27, 2007  Fish Farming
Nov. 04, 2005  Saving the Oceans
Aug. 02, 2002  Threatened Fisheries
Sep. 27, 1985  Whaling: End of an Era
Jul. 16, 1982  Troubled Maritime Industry
Jun. 07, 1974  Oceanic Law
Sep. 29, 1965  National Maritime Policy
Sep. 04, 1963  Fishing Rights and Territorial Waters
Oct. 05, 1955  Territorial Waters and the High Seas
Jul. 21, 1954  Plight of the Maritime Industry
Jul. 10, 1935  Merchant Marine Policy of the United States
Jan. 15, 1929  Sea Power and Sea Law
Jul. 24, 1928  Government Aid to the Merchant Marine
Oct. 17, 1925  The Merchant Marine Problem
Apr. 26, 1924  The New Merchant Marine Situation
BROWSE RELATED TOPICS:
International Law and Agreements
Wildlife and Endangered Species