Due largely to conservation measures implemented by the IWC, many whale stocks had begun to recover by the 1980s. However, public attitudes towards whales had changed radically since the inception of the ICRW. The discovery of complex Humpback Whale songs - first intercepted in Bermuda by a listening post for Russian submarines, and first studied by biologists Roger Payne and Scott McVay - transformed lethargic sources of ambergris, blubber, and ivory into hauntingly articulate, socially complex, and seemingly intelligent peers. Conservation groups and even prominent bands, such as Yes and The Grateful Dead, promoted cetacean conservation. As the Dead sang, in "Save the Whales,"
Lots of whales in the deep blue sea, we kill them for the companies.Drag 'em alongside and chop 'em in two, melt them down and sail it to you.
In 1986, anti-whaling sentiment prompted the IWC to declare a commercial moratorium on whaling. The IWC expanded its protection of whales in 1994, when it created the huge Southern Whale Sanctuary.
Since then, a small hard-core of pro-whaling nations - Iceland, Norway, and Japan - have fought unsuccessfully to overturn the moratorium, and, despite growing widespread opposition to whaling among their own citizens, have resumed harpooning whales. Since the moratorium came into effect, Japan has justified its annual whale hunt as "scientific permit whaling." Its extensive whaling fleet has harpooned and killed thousands of whales, increasingly in the Southern oceans.
Sea Shepherd, an environmental group dedicated to ending whaling, has followed the whaling fleets for years, and interfered with its hunt, with increasingly effective results. The profile of Sea Shepherd and its Canadian founder, Paul Watson, have risen to unprecedented heights with the airing of the Animal Planet television series, Whale Wars. This week, their efforts prevailed: the Japanese whaling fleet conceded defeat, for this season at least, and headed home. As the Japanese newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, reported on February 20, 2011,
While not yet saved, the whales may now be a lot safer.