If you think that title is something of an oxymoron, you’d be correct. Norway has some of Europe’s most pristine environments and some of its most spectacular wildlife, yet, the numbers of whales caught each year is increasing– something that shocks and confuses many Norwegians and Internationals alike.
Text: Adam Andrews
My question is, can the industry really be booming if Norwegians aren’t supportive of the practice? In truth, fewer than 5% of Norwegians regularly eat whale meat, and when they do its less than 0.25kg per person, per year (Altherr et al. 2016). In addition, Norway continues to fail in its quest to lift the CITES ban on international trading, therefore, its export opportunities are limited. Despite this, 2014 and 2015 saw Norway kill more whales (1,389) than Japan (780) and Iceland (345) combined (WDC, 2016), maintaining its position as the globes leading whaler, as these three nations are the only nations which still hunt whales commercially.
One result of this is our ability to walk into any supermarket and have the option to purchase whale meat for cheap, perhaps tempting prices. The cheap prices themselves epitomise the whaling industry in Norway, a reminder of the government’s attempt to increase demand by way of subsidising – An effort to keep the ‘tradition’ alive. Norwegian whaling lobbyists often use the word tradition as a way of reaffirming their need to continue whaling, and will refer to the fact that the Vikings would have relied on whale products during the 8th and 9th centuries. However, with a lack of support and/or commercial benefit, they must be starting to question whether such a tradition should be maintained, solely for one’s loyalty to tradition.
Contrary to belief, Norway hunts whales legally despite the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banning commercial whaling in 1986, as they registered objections to the ban, along with Iceland, and as such are not bound to it. Japan, however, operates under a scientific research permit issued by the IWC. However, their most recent catch of 333 whales in 2016 (WDC, 2016) suggests their intentions are in-fact commercial, and this is internationally recognised as such.
Most anti-whaling activists are against the practice due to the notoriously cruel hunting techniques used. Whales are large, moving targets unable to be caught alive, without causing pain. Individuals are shot with an explosive harpoon from ships, often from great distances. Because of this, whales do not die instantly. Around 280 whales (Altherr et al. 2016) in the last two years alone are estimated to have met this fate, as a result of Norwegian hunting. Whales are instead slowly drowned, being unable to lift their heads above the water, and can suffer in pain for over 10 minutes.
The only species hunted by Norway; the North Atlantic minke whale, is, in the conversation sense, of least concern (IUCN, 2008), therefore, Norwegian commercial whaling is thought to be highly sustainable. It is for this reason that Norway’s “green groups” are seldom heard from regarding the issue, safe in the knowledge that there are an estimated 130,000 whales in the population, and with the belief that the industry will disappear within a generation due to decreasing demand and limited export opportunities. However, leaving the whaling industry to die off over the next generation means that many more whales will have to die to feed the trade. A sobering thought indeed.
So, in essence, the Norwegian government would have us believe that their whaling industry is booming. In truth, every man and his whale hopes that the sooner the government lets go of their blind belief in the industry, the better.
- Altherr, S., O’Connell, K., Fisher, S., Lüber, S. 2016. Frozen in Time. Report by Animal Welfare Institute, OceanCare and Pro Wildlife. 23 pp. Available at: goo.gl/TCGm1C
- IUCN, 2008. Available at: iucnredlist.org/details/2474/0
- WDC, 2016. Available at: whales.org/wdc-in-action/stop-whaling