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Norway’s whale hunt: fallen out of time

Wädenswil, 9th April 2020: The 1st of April marked the start of the annual whaling season in Norway with a self-allocated quota of 1,278 animals. The first minke whale was killed already. Norway’s quota is five times higher than Japan’s. The whaling quota conflicts with science, international agreements and ethical norms. Besides, whaling is uneconomical and faces dwindling local demand for whale meat. Nonetheless, Norwegian authorities plan to relax the regulations for granting whaling licences. Animal Welfare Institute, OceanCare and an international coalition of species and animal protection organisations oppose the suggested changes in a joint letter.

Norway’s whaling takes place under a “reservation” against the IWC’s ban on commercial whaling, which entered into force in 1986. Since then, the Scandinavian country killed more than 14,400 minke whales in European waters. Last year’s season ended with 429 minke whales dead, which is well below the quota. However, many of these whales were pregnant females, which raises additional major animal and species protection concerns.

This year’s whaling season will end in October. Norway is currently the world’s top whaling nation. While there are positive signs from Iceland, where whaling was suspended last year, Norway continues with its policy. “Whalers setting out even in the times of the COVID-19 pandemic shows how grimly Norway clings to its whaling. It’s just cynical to classify the whaling industry, which is artificially kept alive through subsidies, to be of systemic importance,” says Fabienne McLellan, animal and species conservation programme lead at OceanCare.

Moreover, the Norwegian authorities increasingly weaken the requirements for whalers. Right now, the local authorities plan to loosen the regulation for granting whaling licences and to regulate that only one of the crew on board needs to have experience in whaling. However, with challenging conditions at sea, experience is key to avoiding additional animal suffering. In a joint letter to the Norwegian authorities, a coalition of cetacean and animal protection organisations, including OceanCare, express their opposition against such softening of rules.

Norway tries to justify its whaling by pointing to tradition – however, modern explosive harpoons and high-tech devices have very little to do with the original tradition.

Decreasing demand for whale meat in Norway is also reflected by the results of a survey by pollster Opinion AS, commissioned by OceanCare and partners. As local demand for whale meat is low, the meat is also served to schoolchildren, to tourists on cruise ships, in restaurants and at festivals, or it is exported to Japan. The Nordic country also funds a range of projects aimed at boosting whale product sales in the country, such as the development of dietary supplements, alternative drugs or cosmetics from whale oil.

OceanCare has been advocating to end Norway’s whaling since 1992, including as an observer with the IWC.