Over at the Hoover Institution's blog site (here), Gary Libecap has an interesting recommendation of using individual tradeable quotas (ITQs) for whales, which would in effect create a legal market in entitlements to take (or conserve) whales. Based on previous experience with ITQs for fisheries, Libecap argues that a similar system would reduce the political heat over whaling while conserving more whales.
My only concern with Libecap's proposal relates to monitoring, which is necessary to ensure compliance with quota limits. Compliance monitoring for coastal fisheries is one thing, but much whaling takes place on the open seas, where monitoring becomes more difficult. However, as with other fisheries, whaling ships ultimately must bring their catch into port, and as long as adequate monitoring occurs at the docks, then Libecap's recommendation is likely to be both economically feasible and effective for conserving whale populations, at least so long as the caps (i.e., quotas) are properly set (which itself is likely to become a political pressure-point).