Are sperm whales still hunted? No, not commercially. Nevertheless, a traditional hunt is still practised by residents of the Indonesian island of Lembata and so-called scientific whaling is conducted in Japan which calls for the harvest of ten sperm whales a year in the North Pacific. But sperm whales have been hunted worldwide for centuries.

Engravings and skeletal remains reveal that the Norwegians, Inuit and aboriginal Americans were hunting great cetaceans over 1000 years before the Common Era. Narratives relate that Scandinavian peoples were hunting sperm whales in the cold waters off of Iceland in the 13th century.

Indonesian populations have been hunting sperm whales since the 1640s. Hunters there still use traditional methods: they leap into the air and use their strength and weight to harpoon the animal; discover their technique. Between 30 and 50 sperm whales are harvested annually in Indonesia.

Whaling picked up in intensity again after the Second World War. The products of this industry were used for food, machinery, cosmetics and agriculture. Large rorquals in particular were targeted, though as their populations began to fall, sperm whales were increasingly sought. Fast, powerful ships were used. Over 600,000 sperm whales were killed in the industrial whaling of the 20th century, which left whale stocks decimated.

To learn more:

about whaling

about sperm whale

Whale Q&A - 15/4/2015

Marie-Sophie Giroux

Marie-Sophie Giroux joined the GREMM in 2005 until 2018. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology and a diploma in Environmental Consulting. As Lead Naturalist, she oversees and coordinates the team working at the Marine Mammal Interpretation Centre and writes for Whales Online and Whale Portraits. She loves to share “whale stories” with visitors to the CIMM and readers alike.

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