The international governance structures in place with respect to whales are dominated by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). However, the IWC's constitutive document, the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW), lacks many critical elements of good governance which have evolved since the conclusion of the convention. Since the signing of the ICRW, there have been significant and far-reaching developments in the ways and means by which sustainable development and environmental policy is formulated and implemented.

Sustainability principles have expanded well beyond limited conservation objectives to include, in particular, the precautionary and ecosystem approaches. International governance has also evolved to require efficient and participation-based decision-making processes, including integrated management and sustainability, efficient and participation-based decision-making processes, international cooperation between States and coordination between international agencies, transparency, and dispute-resolution and compliance mechanisms. These are all elemental aspects of modern environmental governance.

Necessary reforms to the ICRW are substantial, and in light of the unanimity required, it is likely that only a new convention will achieve the necessary changes. A governance framework for whales must enable and encourage participants and stakeholders to cooperate in a spirit of global partnership. The goal should be to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the global whale populations as part of the overall goal of the sustainability of the oceans and seas implementing the ecosystem and precautionary approaches. It must integrate with other elements of international governance to that wider goal.