by Alex Tabarrok May 22, 2019
THE MOST SENSELESS ENVIRONMENTAL CRIME OF THE 20TH CENTURY
YULIA V. IVASHCHENKO, PHILLIP J. CLAPHAM, and ROBERT L. BROWNELL, Jr.
Soviet Illegal Whaling: The Devil and the Details
Yulia V. Ivashchenko, Phillip J. Clapham
Soviet catches of right whales Eubalaena japonica and bowhead whales Balaena mysticetus in the North Pacific Ocean and the Okhotsk Sea
Indeed, despite having started slowly with modest catches, by the early 1960’s the U.S.S.R. had become one of the major players in worldwide whaling. In the 1961–62 Antarctic whaling season, for example, the U.S.S.R. owned 4 of the total of 21 whaling fleets then operating, and had voluntarily set a quota at 20% of the total catch limit. The Soviets officially reported taking 18.5% of the total number of whales killed for the 1961–62 season but in reality they took 28%. Eventually, however, depletion of whale populations together with the age of some factory ships led to the gradual closure of operations, or a refitting of factory fleets for fisheries. All of the Kuril shore stations were closed by 1964; the Aleut fleet ceased operations in 1967, and Slava in 1969. Four of the remaining five whaling fleets were broken up or retasked at various points between 1975 and 1979; only one whaling fleet (Sovetskaya Ukraina) was left to work after 1980. With the passage by the IWC of a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1982, together with the high cost of maintaining this large fleet, all Soviet whaling came to an end in 1987.
Over the approximately 30-yr period in which the Soviet catches were made, a great number of whales were killed in both the Southern Hemisphere and the North Pacific (the North Atlantic was the only major ocean in which the Soviets did not operate). The total catch in the Antarctic was approximately 338,336 whales, of which only 185,778 were reported. In the North Pacific, the U.S.S.R. killed an estimated 194,177 whales and reported 169,615. Thus, the overall worldwide difference between actual and reported catches by the U.S.S.R. was approximately 177,130 whales.