Whaling is the hunting of whales primarily for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. Various coastal communities have long histories of sustenance whaling and harvesting beached whales. Industrial whaling emerged with organized fleets in the 17th century; competitive national whaling industries in the 18th and 19th centuries; and the introduction of factory ships along with the concept of whale harvesting in the first half of the 20th century.
As technology increased and demand for the resources remained, catches far exceeded the sustainable limit for whale stocks. In the late 1930s, more than 50,000 whales were killed annually and by the middle of the century whale stocks were not being replenished. In 1986, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling so that stocks might recover.
While the moratorium has been successful in averting the extinction of whale species due to overhunting, contemporary whaling is subject to intense debate. Pro-whaling countries, notably Japan, wish to lift the ban on stocks that they claim have recovered sufficiently to sustain limited hunting. Anti-whaling countries and environmental groups say whale species remain vulnerable and that whaling is immoral, unsustainable, and should remain banned permanently.