Defining Issues in International Environmental Law
New Horizons in Environmental and Energy Law series
Chapter 1: From the Blue-Whale Unit to the Revised Management Scheme
The history of whaling has seen over-fishing of one area after another and of one species of whale after another to such a degree that it is essential to protect all species of whales from further over-fishing. (Preamble, International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, 1946) 1 THE FIRST INTERNATIONAL TREATIES The cetaceans that exist in the early twenty-first century and their respective suborders of Odontocetes and Mysticetes have an evolutionary history dating back over 55 million years.1 Their relationship with humanity during the subsequent periods can only be guessed at. However, by 5,000 years ago, it is clear that some cultures were hunting cetaceans. The first records of a commercial approach to whaling come from the Basque country between France and Spain and date to about AD 900. Basque whalers put out to sea in small boats in pursuit of the Biscayan right whales, which were the ‘right’ whales to pursue because they swam slowly and floated when dead. The whalers took their toll on Biscayan right whales, which have never recovered, and in order to maintain their livelihood the whalers were forced to travel further away. They ventured to Iceland and Greenland and by 1538 were in Newfoundland. The English and the Dutch joined the Basques off Greenland and Iceland, all of them intent on another right whale, the Greenland right or bowhead. Under the pressure of the continuing hunt the number of bowheads declined. By 1630 these whales were rare off Spitzbergen and the whalers shifted...
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