Five years ago a meeting was arranged, by the U.K. and some other International Whaling Commission (IWC) members, at which the subject of the welfare of whales during whaling was discussed. At this time, any mention of the word welfare was vetoed at IWC meetings by the small group of countries that killed whales. Professor Don Broom from Cambridge University was one of the speakers at that meeting in Looe, Cornwall, U.K. and one result was his paper in Animal Welfare, 22, 123-126 (2013) entitled “The science of animal welfare and its relevance to whales.” Later, there were talks on animal welfare by Broom and others at a fringe meeting of IWC in Jersey, U.K. and now the subject of animal welfare is on the IWC Agenda.
The IWC was started in order to consider the conservation of cetaceans so this subject has long been considered, for example by scientists like Ray Gambell. However, it must have been obvious to the countries that continued to kill whales and blocked the mention of animal welfare on any agenda item at the IWC, that the methods used were far from humane. Some of the effects on whale welfare of whaling activities are: disturbance by boats, harpoon entry, pulling harpooned whales to a boat, capture procedures, the point of unconsciousness and consequences for animals that escape after being harpooned. If an explosive harpoon is used, explosion in some parts of the body kills the whale but impacts in other parts can result in death only after many days or weeks.
The term ‘humane’, in relation to animals, means their treatment in such a way that their welfare is good to a certain high degree. The welfare is either above the threshold, in which case the treatment is humane, or it is not. Humane killing implies either that the treatment of the animals in the course of the killing procedure does not cause poor welfare, or that the procedure itself results in insensibility to pain and distress within a few seconds. With present methodologies for catching whales during whaling, it appears that the extent of poor welfare during catching and killing is always substantial. The magnitude of poor welfare is much greater than that during the use of any method detailed in law for legally killing a domestic or wild animal. The whale killing procedure would be humane for very few whales.