550 words • 3~4 min read

Whale Quotas and Sea Shepherd

We sparked a good debate over the effectiveness of direct action conservation movements over at the post “Is Sea Shepherd really saving whales?” One of the most difficult questions raised was if Sea Shepherd wasn’t there, would the Japanese make their full quota? The data presented in that post was inconclusive, because the quota increase corresponded to the beginning of SSCS’s Southern Ocean campaign, so we have no time period in which the Japanese quota was increased while Sea Shepherd was absent.

Remember this graph:

Japan Quotas and Catches

In which we see that more whales were killed after Sea Shepherd entered the Southern Ocean, but the the Japanese whaling fleet was unable to reach quota.

In order to determine whether SSCS is having an effect, we need data from whaling programs from the same time period, but without SSCS presence. As it happens, we have data from both Iceland and Norway. Iceland and Norway both have commercial whaling programs, both have preset quotas, and neither have experienced Sea Shepherd interference in the last decade.

Iceland Quotas and Catches

Here we see Iceland’s whale catches and quotas. Despite one year when the quota was reduced to 50 whales,at no point after 2002 did Iceland reach even half their quota.

Norway Catches and Quotas

Norway tells a slightly different story. We can see from this graph that whale catches actually decline as the quotas increase.

What these data together tell us is that whale catches are moderated neither by the quotas set (up to a point) nor the presence of direct action protest groups, but more likely by the distribution and abundance of the whales being hunted. Which begs the question: If direct action is ineffective in achieving it’s goals, and may in fact promote the continuation of the very systems they’re trying to dismantle, why should we continue to support them? And, more importantly, why shouldn’t we make the public aware that these media savvy organizations aren’t getting the job done? Results matter.

~Southern Fried Scientist

On a related note, check out this report from the failed IWC meeting:


Deep-sea biologist, population/conservation geneticist, backyard farm advocate. The deep sea is Earth's last great wilderness.


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