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International whaling

Protecting whales, dolphins and porpoises from disturbances, capture or killing within EU waters.


The EU has adopted measures to protect cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) against hunting, capture and captivity, and also against deliberate disturbance or trading, including cetacean products originating from third countries. These measures also contribute to improving the quality of the environment for whales and other cetaceans by promoting a good environmental status for EU oceans and seas. 

However, due to the migratory character of whale populations, EU policy cannot be effective within EU waters if it is not backed by coherent worldwide action under a comparable international regulatory framework. 

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the international organisation for all aspects related to whales and whaling. It identifies priority threats to cetaceans (ship strikes, marine debris, bycatch, anthropogenic sound, chemical pollution, climate change) and priority actions (sustainable whale watching, conservation management plans, sanctuaries, data collection, reporting).


The EU is guided by an overarching objective to ensure an effective international regulatory framework for the conservation and management of whales. This guarantees a significant improvement in the conservation status of whales and brings all whaling operations by members of the International Whaling Commission under IWC control.


The protection of cetaceans is provided at European level by several legislative acts and strategies, such as

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) addresses both the conservation and management of whale populations at global level.

It includes a legally binding schedule that designates protected and unprotected species, open and closed waters, including sanctuary areas, and sets catch limits for commercial and subsistence whaling. The IWC exercises its basic responsibilities for both sustainable management and conservation by making amendments to that schedule in response to requests from contracting governments.


The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the competent body governing the implementation of the ICRW that meets every two years. As the Convention pre-dates the Treaty of Rome, membership is restricted to governments; therefore, the EU only has observer status in the IWC. Currently, 25 EU Member States are contracting governments to the ICRW.

The IWC mandate covers both the management of whaling and the conservation of whales. It regulates commercial whaling, namely through a moratorium prohibiting commercial whaling enacted in 1986. It also regulates scientific research whaling.

In the context of scientific research whaling, the Convention Schedule asks contracting governments to submit scientific permit proposals for scrutiny by the Scientific Committee before their issuance. The Scientific Committee also assists the IWC in assessing the status of stocks, deciding catch limits and analysing information relating to whales and whaling.

Another fundamental and integral part of the duties performed by the IWC is the regulation of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) that concerns the hunting of whales carried out by indigenous communities who have a tradition of whaling and hunt whales for their subsistence. ASW is not subject to the moratorium because it is not commercial whaling. The IWC sets ASW catch limits every six years.


For questions about EU environmental policy, please contact Europe Direct.