Choose your language:

Commission Overview

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) was established in 1946 as the global body responsible for management of whaling and conservation of whales. It is an inter-governmental organisation with a current membership of 88 governments from all over the world.

The legal framework of the IWC is the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. This Convention established the Commission and is one of the first pieces of international legislation to include a conservation mandate.  All member governments of the IWC are signatories to this Convention.  


The Convention recognises three different types of whaling: commercial, aboriginal subsistence and special permit (also known as scientific) whaling. Following considerable debate, a commercial whaling moratorium was adopted in 1982 and came into full force in 1986. The Commission continues to regulate Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling which is conducted by indigenous communities, often in remote parts of the world. Regulation of aboriginal whaling has always been a core responsibility of the Commission and remains so today. It recognises nutritional and cultural needs, and is underpinned by a rigorous scientific process. The Convention contains a separate category of special permit whaling for scientific research purposes. Special permit whaling is not regulated by the Commission but by national governments, although none currently undertake this type of whaling.


The second half of the Commission's mandate is to conserve whales. This work has evolved in response to the changing and growing threats to cetaceans and other marine species. Today, the Commission is engaged in a wide range of programmes to understand and address threats including bycatch and entanglement, ship strikes, ocean noise, debris and pollution, disease and climate change. The Commission also holds international training workshops on safe and effective responses to entanglement and stranding.


The Commission’s work is divided into five main areas : Science, Conservation, Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling, Whale Killing & Welfare Issues, Infractions and Finance & Administration Committee. The Scientific Committee is the oldest of these and in many ways, the foundation of the Commission. This Committee comprises approximately 200 of the world’s leading cetaceans scientists who report to the Commission each year and provide a scientific basis for IWC policy-making.



"Recognising the interest of the nations of the world in safeguarding for future generations the great natural resources represented by whale stocks"
- International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, 1946