The first IWC sanctuary was established in the Antarctic in 1938, south of 40°S between longitudes 70°W and 160°W. The original reason for this was that in this sector commercial whaling had not hitherto been prosecuted and it was thought highly desirable that the immunity which whales in this area had enjoyed should be maintained. This sanctuary was continued by the IWC from its inception until 1955, when the area was opened initially for three years as a means of reducing the pressure of catches on the rest of the Antarctic whaling grounds.
The Indian Ocean Sanctuary was established by the IWC in 1979, extending south to 55°S latitude, as an area where commercial whaling is prohibited. The Indian Ocean Sanctuary was initially established for 10 years and its duration has since been extended twice.
At the 46th (1994) Annual Meeting the IWC adopted the Southern Ocean Sanctuary as another area in which commercial whaling is prohibited. The northern boundary of this Sanctuary follows the 40°S parallel of latitude except in the Indian Ocean sector where it joins the southern boundary of that sanctuary at 55°S, and around South America and into the South Pacific where the boundary is at 60°S. This prohibition will be reviewed ten years after its initial adoption and at succeeding ten year intervals, and could be revised at such times by the IWC.
At the 54th meeting in 2002 the Scientific Committee established a Working Group to review existing IWC sanctuaries and sanctuary proposals and carried out a review of the Indian Ocean Sanctuary. A Committee Steering Group was established and produced a list of evaluation criteria to facilitate the review (JCRM 2003, Appendix 3, pp. 418-419). After extensive discussions within the Committee there was little consensus in the overall evaluation of the sanctuary regarding its objectives, aside from agreement that since its establishment, whales have been protected from commercial whaling within its boundaries. Subsequently, the Commission agreed to continue the prohibition but did not discuss whether or not it should set a time when the Sanctuary should be reviewed again.
Note: The Southern Ocean Sanctuary was due for review at the 2004 meeting.
Two additional proposals for the establishment of sanctuaries in the South Atlantic and South Pacific have been submitted to the Commission for a number of years. To date, both have failed to achieve the three-quarters majority of votes needed to change the Schedule and become designated IWC Sanctuaries.