In 1982, member nations of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) voted to implement a moratorium on commercial whaling. This came into effect in 1986. The IWC enacted the ban so that whale populations that had been pushed to the brink of extinction could recover. Three nations, however, have since resumed commercial whaling — Japan, Iceland and Norway.
Japan’s war on whales
Japan makes the most of a loophole in the moratorium, which allows countries to kill a number of whales each year for “research” purposes. Iceland and Norway both issued official objections to the moratorium and resumed commercial whaling in 2006 and 1993 respectively. Norway specifically targets minke whales, for which it sets its own annual quota, ranging from 671 whales in 2002 to a much higher limit of 1,286 whales in recent years.
Norway’s war on whales
Since 2012, Norway has killed more whales than either Iceland or Japan. Their kill totals for the past two years are greater than those of the other two nations combined. In 2014, for example, Japan and Iceland were responsible for the deaths of 196 and 161 whales respectively. Norway killed a total of 736 whales. Although minke whales are not currently considered at risk, this may change if Norway continues to target them so indiscriminately.
According to a 2016 report published by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), OceanCare and Pro-Wildlife, the Norwegian government is largely responsible for perpetuating whaling culture. It supports the industry by funding projects that promote domestic sales of whale products. It also supports development of whale-based products ranging from medicine to cosmetics. In 2015, whaling company Myklebust Hvalprodukter launched a line of whale-based skin creams and protein pills.
AWI executive director Susan Millward expressed her concern over initiatives like this one, saying “we were stunned that a Norwegian whaling company is actively selling health and beauty products manufactured from whale oil. This is not the 1800s. It is incomprehensible that such a modern nation produces skin creams sourced from an inherently cruel industry.”
Whale meat surplus
Instead of appearing as a delicacy in upscale restaurants, the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released a document earlier this year that shows how whale meat is being bought in bulk to feed the animals farmed for Norway’s fur industry. Such is the surplus that Norway exports much of its whale meat and blubber to Japan. The 2016 report claimed that Norway has exported 250 tons of whale products in the past 15 years.
CITES Appendix I lists minke whales, which makes it illegal to export their products. However, Norway, Iceland and Japan have all entered reservations against the minke whale’s CITES listing. This allows them to continue trading with each other as well as with those nations not bound by CITES. Norway has also attempted to expand its export potential by campaigning to have the minke whale downgraded to Appendix II. This would allow for trade with a permit.
Despite all this, Norway’s whaling program receives far less criticism or attention than Iceland’s or Japan’s. In 2001, the IWC issued a resolution asking the Norwegian government to halt all whaling activities and whale exports. Norway ignored the request and the IWC took no further action. According to Sigrid Lüber, OceanCare President, “for as long as this remains the case, Norway will continue to let Iceland and Japan take the heat for whaling and maintain its business as usual.”
Since Norway resumed whaling after the 1986 moratorium, the industry has been responsible for killing 11,808 whales. According to the recent report, a key step in stemming the slaughter is for CITES and IWC to take “strong and unambiguous” action against Norway at their forthcoming meetings later this year.