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Special Permit Whaling 

(also known as Scientific Whaling) 

Special Permits to kill, take and treat whales for scientific research 

The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946) is the legal agreement which establishes the International Whaling Commission.  Article VIII of the Convention states that countries are permitted to kill whales for scientific research purposes. Article VIII gives responsibility for setting and regulating these catches to individual governments, not the IWC.

Although the IWC does not regulate special permit whaling, Article VIII does stipulate that any country undertaking special permit whaling should report to the IWC each time a permit is issued. It also states that the scientific information produced by the special permit whaling should be presented, at least annually, to the Commission. This information is received by the IWC Scientific Committee which reviews all special permit whaling proposals and the results of any programmes using a process known as 'Annex P,' The Scientific Committee's findings are reported to the Commission.

Article VIII

  1. Notwithstanding anything contained in this Convention any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit, and the killing, taking, and treating of whales in accordance with the provisions of this Article shall be exempt from the operation of this Convention. Each Contracting Government shall report at once to the Commission all such authorizations which it has granted. Each Contracting Government may at any time revoke any such special permit which it has granted.

  2. Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted.

  3. Each Contracting Government shall transmit to such body as may be designated by the Commission, in so far as practicable, and at intervals of not more than one year, scientific information available to that Government with respect to whales and whaling, including the results of research conducted pursuant to paragraph 1 of this Article and to Article IV.

  4. Recognizing that continuous collection and analysis of biological data in connection with the operations of factory ships and land stations are indispensable to sound and constructive management of the whale fisheries, the Contracting Governments will take all practicable measures to obtain such data.


Click here for a table of all Special Permit Whaling Catches since 1985

Commission Review of Special Permits 

The Commission often makes comments on proposals it receives from member Governments to establish or modify special permit programmes.  It does this by passing Resolutions.  Resolutions may be adopted by consensus or by a majority vote.  These are not legally binding although incumbent on all member governments is a duty of cooperation with the IWC and its Scientific Committee, as highlighted in the ruling of the International Court of Justice (see below).

International Court of Justice

It is well documented that IWC member governments have been unable to reach agreement on special permit whaling. In 2010, the Government of Australia (with New Zealand intervening) brought a case against the Government of Japan at the International Court of Justice regarding Japan’s Special Permit programme in the Antarctic (known as JARPA II). In March 2014 the court delivered its Judgement. You can read the Judgement and related papers here.

As a result of the Judgement, the Government of Japan ended the JARPA II programme. The implications of the Judgement were discussed at the IWC Commission meeting in September 2014. Consensus could not be reached but a Resolution was adopted by vote. You can read a report of the discussion in the Chair’s Report of the meeting here. You can read the Resolution here.

Current activity on Special Permit Whaling

In 2015, the Government of Japan began a new special permit whaling programme in the Antarctic, called NEWREP-A.  Following the agreed Scientific Committee procedure (Annex P - see above), the proposal for the NEWREP-A programme was first reviewed by an independent Expert Panel.  You can read their report here.  The report of the Expert Panel, and a response from the Government of Japan were then considered by the Scientific Committee at its meeting in June 2015.  The Committee could not reach agreement on whether lethal sampling was required to fulfil the objectives of the proposed research programme and this was reported to the Commission at its biennial meeting in October 2016.

Also at the 2016 Commission Meeting, a Resolution on improving the review process for whaling under special permit was proposed and adopted by vote.  Amongst the measures set out in this Resolution is the formation of a new Standing Working Group of Commissioners to consider special permit-related reports and recommendations arising from the Scientific Committee.  You can read the full text of the Resolution here.

In November 2016, the Government of Japan circulated a proposal for a new special permit whaling programme in the North Pacific Ocean, called NEWREP-NP.  The same 'Annex P' process of review will be used by the Scientific Committee.