New Zealand is a strong advocate for the protection of whales and a founding member of the International Whaling Commission.

Whale watching off New Zealand's Kaikoura coast has become a major toursit attraction
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 marine territory. 

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 such research can be achieved using non-lethal research methods.

The International Whaling Commission (IWC)

Humpback whales migrate through New Zealand's waters each year
Humpback whales migrate through New Zealand's waters each year

The IWC is the international body responsible for managing the world’s great whales, including the humpback whales that migrate through New Zealand's waters each year, and sperm whales that are seen most often off the Kaikoura coast.

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. The IWC introduced the moratorium on commercial whaling which took effect in 1986 and has 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're 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)

We oppose ‘scientific whaling’

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

The case was brought by Australia against Japan in 2010. New Zealand was an “intervening state” in the case and put forward its views to the Court on the correct interpretation and application of the Whaling Convention. The Court’s finding that Japan’s programme was unlawful was a major milestone.

At its 2014 meeting the IWC adopted a resolution, promoted by New Zealand, implementing the Court’s reasoning and conclusions in the procedures of the IWC.

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