[MARMAM] New publication on Soviet whaling

Yulia Ivashchenko yulia.ivashchenko at noaa.gov
Fri Dec 30 19:19:31 PST 2011

The following paper has just been published:

Ivashchenko, Y.V., Clapham, P.J. & Brownell, R.L. Jr.  2011.  Soviet
illegal whaling: the Devil and the details.  Marine Fisheries Review 73:

ABSTRACT - In 1948, the USSR began a global campaign of illegal whaling
that lasted for three decades and, together with the poorly managed “legal”
whaling of other nations, seriously depleted whale populations.  Although
the general story of this whaling has been told and the catch record
largely corrected for the Southern Hemisphere, major gaps remain in the
North Pacific.  Furthermore,  little attention has been paid to the details
of this system or its economic context.
   Using interviews with former Soviet whalers and biologists as well as
previously unavailable reports and other material in Russian, our objective
is to describe how the Soviet whaling industry was structured and how it
worked, from the largest scale of state industrial planning down to the
daily details of the ways in which whales were caught and processed, and
how data sent to the Bureau of International Whaling Statistics were
   Soviet whaling began with the factory ship Aleut in 1933, but by 1963
the industry had a truly global reach, with seven factory fleets (some very
large).  Catches were driven by a state planning system that set annual
production targets.  The system gave bonuses and honors only when these
were met or exceeded, and it invariably increased the following year’s
targets to match the previous year’s production; scientific estimates of
the sustainability of the resource were largely ignored.  Inevitably, this
system led to whale populations being rapidly reduced.  Furthermore,
productivity was measured in gross output (weights of whales caught),
regardless of whether carcasses were sound or rotten, or whether much of
the animal was unutilized.
   Whaling fleets employed numerous people, including women (in one case as
the captain of a catcher boat).  Because of relatively high salaries and
the potential for bonuses, positions in the whaling industry were much
sought-after.  Catching and processing of whales was highly mechanized and
became increasingly efficient as the industry gained more experience.  In a
single day, the largest factory ships could process up to 200 small sperm
whales, 100 humpback whales or 30-35 pygmy blue whales.  However,
processing of many animals involving nothing more than stripping the
carcass of blubber and then discarding the rest.  From 1933 until 1952, the
main product was whale oil; only later was baleen whale meat regularly
   Falsified data on catches were routinely submitted to the Bureau of
International Whaling Statistics, but the true catch and biological data
were preserved for research and administrative purposes.  National
inspectors were present at most times, but with occasional exceptions they
worked primarily to assist fulfillment of plan targets and routinely
ignored the illegal nature of many catches.
   In all, during 40 years of whaling in the Antarctic the USSR reported
185,778 whales taken but at least 338,336 were actually killed.  Data for
the North Pacific are currently incomplete, but from provisional data we
estimate that at least 30,000 whales were killed illegally in this ocean.
Overall, we judge that, worldwide, the USSR killed approximately 180,000
whales illegally and caused a number of population crashes.  Finally, we
note that Soviet illegal catches continued after 1972 despite the presence
of international observers on factory fleets.

Reprints are available free of charge at

Yulia V. Ivashchenko
National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle WA, USA
Whale Research Centre, Southern Cross University, Lismore NSW, Australia
*yulia.ivashchenko at noaa.gov*
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