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On July 23, 1982, the International Whaling Commission officially adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling, which was to take effect four years later.  The decision followed the birth of the anti-whaling movement in the 1970s and two sobering reports (in 1977 and 1981) from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species that asserted several species of whales were in danger of extinction.

A 19th century pen and ink drawing featuring examples of whalecraft (harpoons, lances and spears) used in whaling. Image courtesy of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Whaling consists of hunting whales for either meat or oil, and it has been practiced by humans since prehistoric times.  In the United States, many Native American tribes have a long history of whaling, and a thriving whaling industry was established alongside some of the earliest colonies.  Commercial whaling in American reached its peak in the mid-19th Century, but by the early 20th century the number of active whaleships quickly dwindled and commercial whaling had ceased entirely by 1927.  According to the IWC’s moratorium, whaling may still take place for scientific research and aboriginal subsistence, and whaling in the United States still occurs today under the auspices of the latter provision.

Whale at the Tyee Company whaling station, Tyee, Alaska, August 25, 1910. Image courtesy of the University of Washington via the Western Waters Digital Library.

You can learn more about the history of whaling in the United States at Opening History.

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