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Toxic whale meat and the IWC

The International Whaling Commission & Human Health Issues

Since 1981, concerns regarding contamination in cetaceans and related risks for human health have repeatedly entered the agenda of IWC meetings. While the issue was underreported for quite some years, since the late 1990s many scientific papers and reports from non-government organizations* have reported on related scientific findings, resulting in a variety of activities and Resolutions by the IWC:

  • IWC-Res. 1998-11 (“IWC concern about human health effects from the consumption of cetaceans”) invites governments to submit to the IWC, reliable information on human health effects of the consumption of cetaceans.
  • IWC-Res. 1999-4 “on Health Effects from the consumption of Cetaceans” calls on the relevant countries to take measures to reduce pollution and calls on Governments and other organizations to continue to provide data concerning contaminants in cetaceans to the Scientific Committee.
  • IWC-Res. 2000-6 “on POPs and Heavy Metals” urges IWC parties to sign and ratify two protocols on international actions on POPs and heavy metals under the Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (LRTAP).
  • IWC-Res. 2001-5 “on Commercial Whaling” expresses the IWC’s concern on the reportedly high levels of contaminants in blubber from minke whales hunted in Norway. The resolution also requests that the Norwegian government refrain from issuing export permits for whale products.
  • IWC-Res. 2001-13 “on Small Cetaceans” recalls the recommendations of the Scientific Committee that range states continue studies to, inter alia, conduct contamination analysis and health assessments and provide relevant scientific data to the SC.
  • At the IWC meeting in 2010 a bunch of delegates urged the IWC Secretariat to start a dialogue with the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the increased concerns about contaminated whale products and related human health risks. At IWC 63 in 2011, the IWC Secretariat presented an unsatisfying report that the WHO would not have any data specifically related to this issue.
  • IWC-Res. 2012-1 “on Health of Cetaceans and Related Human Health Effects” instructs the IWC to closely cooperate with the World Health Organization and urges whaling nations to inform their consumers about health effects related to consumption of cetacean products.

* e.g. Altherr & Lueber (2009, and 2nd edition 2012): “Toxic Menu – Contamination of whale meat and impact on consumers’ health”. Review by Pro Wildlife, Munich/Germany and OceanCare, Waedenswil/Switzerland.


Hanly, K. (1997): Polar exposure: Environmental threats to Arctic marine life and communities. Swiss Coalition for the Protection of Whales & Global Survival Network (eds.), Waedenswil, Switzerland.