The International Whaling Commission
On December 2nd, 1946, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) was signed in the United States by representatives from many of the world's whaling nations. The mandate of the ICRW was, through regulation, to "provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and thus make possible the orderly development of the whaling industry".
However, the ICRW also has a conservation mandate which is expressed in its opening text:
"Considering that the history of whaling has seen over-fishing of one area after another and of one species of whale after another to such a degree that it is essential to protect all species of whales from further over-fishing..."
The convention led to the creation of the International Whaling Commission which first conviened in 1949. Article V of the convention authorizes the IWC to set quotas, protect species, close seasons to hunting, establish sanctuaries, and more. However, regulations established by the IWC have historically been regarded as optional by whaling nations. As a result, the IWC has largely failed to protect whales from over-exploitation.
In its early years IWC policies seemed to facilitate the worst business practices of the whaling industry leading some environmental organizations to refer to it as the "International Whalers Club". As whale populations around the world were decimated, many whale fisheries predictably declined and collapsed as well.
Without any mechanism for enforcement of IWC regulations, most large whale species were hunted to the brink of extinction. However, increased public awareness of environmental issues and activism during the 1970s and 80s helped to pressure governments to give up whaling in favor of whale conservation. This "Save the Whales" effort culminated in the 1986 global moratorium on commercial whaling which officially set all commercial whaling quotas to zero.
Unfortunately, Japan, Iceland, and Norway continue to undermine the moratorium through official objection and regulatory loopholes. For example, Japan has heavily abused Article VIII of the ICRW which enables a nation to hunt whales with a self-determined quota for scientific research. Japan has also used its economic influence to bribe developing nations for pro-whaling votes. As a result, the IWC remains divided between pro-whaling and anti-whaling nations. Despite the division, the IWC has passed multiple resolutions officially calling on these nations to stop killing whales for 'lethal research' and commercial use.
The IWC has not entirely banned whaling. The commission routinely approves quotas for Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling by native groups, most of which are located in the Arctic circle.