Protecting whales

New Zealand is a strong advocate for the protection of whales and a founding member of the International Whaling Commission.
The tail of a whale.
Whale watching off New Zealand's Kaikoura coast has become a major tourist attraction

As a geographically isolated country with many unique plants and animals, New Zealand has a strong interest in species conservation. Almost half the world's 80 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises are found in our waters. Many whales migrating from the breeding grounds of the tropics to the rich feeding territories of the Antarctic travel through our region.

MFAT's advocacy for the protection of whales is largely through the International Whaling Commission (IWC), and we work closely with the Department of Conservation (DOC) to develop whale conservation policy.

New Zealand is a firm supporter of the IWC's moratorium on commercial whaling, which came into effect in 1986. We are also a strong supporter of whale sanctuaries (including the Southern Ocean Sanctuary), which are an important way to support the global recovery of depleted whale stocks and also provide an opportunity for research into whale populations. In keeping with this, we support non-lethal international whale research programmes, such as the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. We also support the work of the IWC's Conservation Committee, which works to alleviate threats to whales and other cetaceans.

We remain strongly opposed to 'scientific’ whaling in the Southern Ocean and North Pacific. New Zealand strongly believes that whale research can be carried out using non-lethal methods.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC)

A humpback whale breaching.
Humpback whales migrate through New Zealand's waters each year

The IWC is the international organisation responsible for the management and conservation of whales. The IWC’s founding document is the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

The IWC can set measures to protect certain species, designate specific areas as whale sanctuaries, prescribe the seasons and areas in which whaling can take place, and set limits on the number and size of whales that can be caught.

In 1982 the IWC introduced a moratorium on commercial whaling which took effect in 1986.  The IWC has also established two whale sanctuaries – one in the Indian Ocean (1987) and the other in the Southern Ocean (1994).

New Zealand is a founding member of the IWC and we are closely involved in its work. MFAT advises New Zealand's Commissioner to the IWC on diplomatic matters while DOC provides advice on scientific matters. New Zealand, along with many other member countries, would like to see the IWC’s responsibilities extended to all whales and dolphins.

Read more about the IWC(external link)

International Whaling Commission meetings

In 2012, the IWC decided to move from an annual meeting to a two-yearly meeting. Its most recent meeting, ‘IWC66’, was held 24-28 October 2016 in Portoroz, Slovenia. As in previous years, New Zealand provided an Opening Statement to the IWC.

We oppose ‘scientific whaling’

New Zealand has long opposed so-called ‘scientific’ whaling conducted under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. In 2010 New Zealand joined the case brought by Australia at the International Court of Justice concerning Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean. New Zealand was an intervening state in the case and in that capacity was able to put forward its views to the Court on the correct interpretation and application of the Convention.

In March 2014, the Court found that Japan's Southern Ocean whaling programme was not 'for purposes of scientific research' as required under the Convention and therefore had to cease. This was a major milestone.

Read the International Court of Justice’s judgment(external link)

At its 2014 meeting, the IWC adopted a resolution promoted by New Zealand (Resolution 2014-5) which implemented the Court’s reasoning and conclusions in the procedures of the IWC. The resolution requested that the members not issue themselves the special permits required for ‘scientific’ whaling until the IWC had considered the advice of its Scientific Committee and made its own recommendations on the permit proposal.

Read Resolution 2014-5

At its 2016 meeting the IWC adopted a further resolution (Resolution 2016-2), promoted by Australia and New Zealand. This resolution set out a process for the IWC to form its own views on the scientific merits or otherwise of a special permit proposal. The resolution established a working group that, in between the biennial IWC meetings, will consider the Scientific Committee’s recommendations on special permit proposals and then summarise them for the IWC.

Read Resolution 2016-2

2016 marked the 30th anniversary of the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. It also marked the first IWC meeting since Japan resumed whaling in the Southern Ocean in 2015/2016 season, in contravention of the IWC’s process for assessing special permit proposals. New Zealand made clear its ongoing opposition to Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling at the 2016 IWC meeting.

Read our statement at the 2016 IWC meeting on Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling programme

We seek improved processes

2016 was also the 70th anniversary of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling. This milestone gave pause to reflect on the IWC’s processes, as many of the IWC’s institutional and governance arrangements have not been updated in over 50 years.

At its 2016 meeting the IWC adopted a resolution, promoted by Australia, New Zealand and the USA, for an independent review of these arrangements (Resolution 2016-1), to bring the IWC into line with international best practice for multilateral treaty bodies.

Read Resolution 2016-1


We use cookies and other tracking technologies to improve your browsing experience on our website, to analyze our website traffic, and to understand where our visitors are coming from. You can find out more information on our Privacy Page.