Whalers in Norway continue to carry out commercial whaling despite falling demand for whale meat and a decline in the number of boats hunting each year.
How many whales are killed in Norway?
Norway kills minke whales under a self-allocated quota, currently 1,278 for the 2021 season which began on 1st April. This quota, unchanged since 2018 (previous quotas were 999 in 2017 and 880 in 2016) seems largely symbolic, since the number of whales killed over the years have always fallen far short of the official quota.
2020 saw 503 minkes killed, up from 429 in 2019 and the highest total since 2016, but again falling well short of the quota, thus begging the question: why set such a high quota when (mercifully) it is never fulfilled? The answer lies partly in the Norwegian government’s defensive stance towards whaling and its desperate ambition to increase domestic demand for whale meat, and export whale meat to Japan, Iceland and the Faroes.
Whaling in Norway - facts
- Norwegian whalers kill hundreds of minke whales each year
- Many of the whales targeted are pregnant females
- Minkes are hunted under an 'objection' to the global ban on commercial whaling
- The hunts are heavily subsidised by the government, which constantly seeks to develop new markets
- Norway’s government promotes whale meat to school children and young people are offered whale burgers at festivals
- Tourists are offered whale meat in restaurants and cruise ships promote it to passengers on shore visits
Norwegian whaling: a brief history
Early whaling: Norwegian whalers have hunted whales in their own waters since around the 9th and 10th centuries. However, by the second half of the 19th century, the whalers’ ability to kill huge numbers of whales really ratcheted up as new whaling techniques and technologies coming out of Norway - most notably the exploding harpoon cannon and ‘factory ships’ for processing whales at sea - paved the way for a dramatic expansion of the industry.
After decimating local blue whale and fin whale populations, the whalers turned their attention to killing whales in other regions, including Iceland, the Faroes and Scotland and even as far afield as Newfoundland, southern Africa and the Antarctic. By the mid 1930s, Norwegian whalers dominated the global whaling industry, killing over half of all whales taken and producing much of the world’s whale oil.
Modern whaling: By the 1970s, around 2,000 minke whales were being caught each year and much of the meat was sold to Japan. Unsurprisingly, Norway was not keen to lose this lucrative market and be bound by the International Whaling Commission's global ban (‘moratorium’) on commercial whaling which came into effect in 1986 and so was one of the few governments to register a formal ‘objection’ which means it is not bound by it. At first, whales were hunted under the guise of ‘scientific research’ but by 1993, Norway resumed full-blown commercial whaling citing its ‘objection’ to the moratorium.
Minke whaling in Norway is conducted by fishermen, the vast majority of whom resume fishing activities outside the whaling season. The hunts rely on state subsidies and the government is constantly searching for new markets to exploit, with young people and tourists their main targets.
Norway whaling myths
So why does the slaughter continue?
How can Norway - a country which is so liberal and politically correct in other ways and which was named by the World Bank in 2018 as the world’s richest - justify supporting and indeed promoting this cruel and archaic industry in the 21st Century?
The answer lies with a government hell-bent on clinging stubbornly to an industry that has long since had its day, especially in such a wealthy and otherwise forward-thinking country. As Norwegians aren’t keen on eating whale meat, the government has spent decades - and huge amounts of taxpayers’ money - subsidising the whaling and paying marketing companies to dream up promotion strategies.
Declining domestic demand, especially amongst women and young people has forced the industry to be more creative in its attempts to spark an interest in whale meat in other sectors of the population. However, efforts in recent years to promote products such as whale burgers and whale sushi to students and young people attending popular Norwegian music festivals such as Bukta, Træna or Inferno, have largely flopped, as have efforts to offload the meat in school lunches or to feed the homeless.
Clearly panicked by domestic disinterest, the Norwegian government’s instinctive response is to go on the attack. In early 2020, Norway’s minister of fisheries and seafood, Harald Nesvik, declared “whales are healthy and are good food … Norwegians want minke whales on the dinner plate.” However, the facts demonstrate that he is wrong on both counts.
Unwary tourists keep the trade alive
“Wandering around Tromsø, it’s easy to be struck by the number of venues boasting whale for sale. As if killing whales – when most of the rest of the world respects the international ban – was not enough, it felt doubly insulting to see Norwegian minke whale carpaccio feature on one harbourside menu at 115 NOK (around £11), the same price as onion rings and chips - and cheaper than a green salad! Can the life of a beautiful, sentient creature really be valued so cheaply?”
Tourists are a prime target for those marketing whale meat, which is sold in supermarkets, dockside fish markets, restaurants and promoted aboard cruise ships. Skincare products and supplements containing whale are also available.
It could be that many tourists have yet to realise that, by purchasing whale products, they are helping to perpetuate an industry that could otherwise have died by now. Following the success of our outreach campaign to tourists visiting Iceland - which dramatically reduced demand for whale meat from 40% of tourists who admitted to sampling whale meat whilst on holiday in 2009, down to only 11.4% by 2017 - we’re also reaching out to tourists to Norway with a similar message: please don’t eat whale! We hope tourists will lose their appetite for whale meat once they realise the steak on their plate may well have come from a terrified pregnant minke whale.
Please help us end the cruelty of whaling
Norway allows its whalers to hunt hundred of whales each year. Help us end this cruel industry once and for all.
Exports and our campaign to ban the transit of whale meat through UK and EU ports
Prior to the ban on commercial whaling, Norway exported over 50% of the meat and blubber from hunted whales to Japan. After the moratorium, Norway originally agreed to halt its trade in whale products, but instead resumed exports in 2001.
Since then, we have seen concerted efforts by Norwegian (and Icelandic) whalers to increase their profits by exporting to Japan and other countries. In recent years, Norwegian whalers have shipped around a third of their catch to Japan.
Prominent individuals in the whaling industry have made much of the role of enhanced trade as being a signal that whaling can be made profitable. Such transit has often involved whale products being moved through ports in countries which oppose whaling. For example, the UK and the EU currently allow ships carrying whale meat and products to dock at our ports, despite our opposition to whaling.
Isn’t it illegal to ship whale meat halfway across the globe?
Sadly not. As is the case with Icelandic whale meat exports, the shocking truth is that Norway, along with Japan and Iceland, holds a ‘reservation’ against the listing of minke whales under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and, therefore, can legally trade whale products with each other.
Here are some examples of recent shipments:
February 2013: 4,250 kilos of frozen whale belly meat, blubber, tails and fins were exported to Japan via Rotterdam, Le Havre, Hamburg and Southampton, before heading on to Japan via the Suez Canal.
March 2015: Japan dumped a shipment of Norwegian minke whale meat after routine safety tests discovered that it contained up to twice the permitted level of three banned pesticides (see Myth 5 above).
October 2016: 3,455 kilos of minke whale meat were shipped to Japan via Hamburg.
July 2017: 432 kilos of whale meat was exported to the Faroe Islands.
October 2018: 148.3 metric tonnes of Norwegian minke whale meat was shipped to Rotterdam and the meat transferred to another container vessel which sailed on, via Hamburg and Busan, Korea, before reaching Sendai, Japan, in November.
October 2019: A shipment of 201.2 metric tonnes of Norwegian minke whale meat was again shipped via Rotterdam and Busan, arriving in Hakata, Japan in late November. [Data supplied by AWI, Animal Welfare Institute]
WDC working to end whaling in Norway
Whalers much prefer to keep the public, including their own population, in the dark, feeding them misinformation. The very last thing they want is for anyone to shine a spotlight on their activities, so one of the most important things WDC can do is to publicise the cruelty of their hunts and highlight what you can do to help.
In recent years we have:
- Repeatedly highlighted the cruelty of the hunts and contributed to resolutions tabled at the IWC (International Whaling Commission) meetings
- Mustered over 100,000 signatures to a petition supporting a Resolution by European MEPs to the EU Commission calling for a ban on the transit of whale meat from Norway (and other whaling regions) through EU ports
- Briefed the UK government on the anomaly of allowing whale products to pass through our ports and called for a ban on such transit
- Produced flyers informing tourists to Norway exactly why they should avoid supporting the killing by eating whale meat or purchasing products made from whales.
- Publicised the large percentage of pregnant females killed in the hunts. This is by no means the ‘accident’ the whalers claim but rather, a cynical exploitation of the fact that pregnant whales are easy targets, being larger and slower.
- Briefed the media repeatedly on the cruelty and wastage involved in the hunts including dumping whale carcasses overboard in view of passenger boats or close to harbours.
- Worked with partner organisations to survey Norwegians on whale meat consumption and attitudes to whaling
- Worked with whale watch tourism experts within Norway to approach the government, calling for regulations to improve the current industry, as a responsible, profitable whale watch industry is one of the most powerful arguments against whaling: every whale killed is one fewer to be watched.