Spain: the death of whale hunting

In 1972 a recommendation for a ten-year moratorium on commercial whaling was approved by the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. And in the 1970s, as more and more non-whaling countries joined the commercially-oriented International Whaling Commission (IWC), it was gradually transformed into an organisation focused on the conservation of whales. Spain, a whaling country, was not a member.

FoE Spain magazine cover - sperm whale
Friends of the Earth Spain magazine cover
In 1979 the IWC introduced a ban on the hunting of all whale species (except minke whales) by factory ships - although there were and are loopholes that permit countries to continue whaling. This same year saw the launch of Friends of the Earth Spain’s anti-whaling campaign, which the Spanish government tried to block. However, since the IWC prohibited its members to negotiate with non-members, Spain also found itself obliged to join the IWC in 1979 in order to sell its fish catch to Japan, an IWC member.

Friends of the Earth saw an opportunity to influence the Spanish government, and became an NGO observer to the IWC. This allowed it to exert pressure at both the national and international levels, which was a new approach for the Spanish ecological movement. 200,000 people signed up in support of a moratorium against whale hunting in 1981, proposed by an alliance of organisations including Friends of the Earth.

Friends of the Earth Spain also got a seat as an observer to the IWC’s 33rd meeting in the United Kingdom, gaining access to the plenary meetings and the Technical Committee, and representing all ecologist associations in Spain. This meeting was of great importance in the campaign, revealing as it did that only a minority of countries, including Spain, were still hunting.

In the same year Friends of the Earth Spain also persuaded the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), then in opposition, to present a legal proposition on a moratorium on whale hunting to parliament. This opened up a fast track to success. At the IWC meeting in 1982, the Spanish position on whale hunting changed, and a national moratorium started three years later. In 1985 whale hunting was stopped in Spain and the whale factories in Cee and Cangas were closed.


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