Hundreds of whales face slaughter as Norway's killing season resumes

Norwegian whale hunt

Campaigners say Norway's reputation suffers as a result of its continued sanctioning of whale hunting. Photo: WSPA 

As the annual and highly controversial Norwegian whale hunt begins, Joanna Toole argues the evidence proving the practice is cruel, unnecessary and increasingly unpopular is now overwhelming

Today is the official start of the whaling season in Norway. Norway is one of just three countries defying the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling. This moratorium on whaling was implemented by a qualifying majority of member states of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in attempt to put a stop to a hunting practice which was leading to the near extinction of several whale species.

Despite the international opposition, Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 and has since killed over 9,500 whales. This year, 1,286 sociable and sentient minke whales are earmarked to die in Norwegian waters in the hunting season which runs between April and August.

For years the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) has worked  alongside animal welfare groups in Norway to help increase the pressure on the Norwegian government to put a stop to this cruel, outdated and unnecessary practice. So far it has been hard getting through to government officials in the Norwegian home turf and the IWC alike. It has been made clear by the Norwegian government that the argument of whaling being cruel isn’t reason enough to put a stop to the hunts.

Dwindling support

However, next week WSPA and Norwegian organisations Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge and NOAH – for Dyrs Rettigheter will release new evidence which demonstrates that public support for whaling in Norway is dwindling, that the Norwegian appetite for whale meat is at an all time low and as a consequence the industry is struggling to survive. The diminishing profitability of the industry is already acknowledged by whalers and the Norwegian government as recent years have seen declining catches and fewer people and vessels involved in the hunts.

The new report is set to reveal the true extent of the situation and demonstrate why the government needs to act.  All three groups want the Norwegian government to take a hard look at the numbers and question the logic of sustaining an industry which is not only already in decline but also has diminished public support.

The public discontent was clear when the three groups went to the streets of Oslo last year to get an impression of the Norwegian mindset. The feedback demonstrated the changing attitudes of Norwegians towards whaling and it was decided to showcase it in a video. Adding to this, the animal welfare aspect of whaling is more evident than ever. Scientific evidence and eye witness accounts both confirm that there is no reliably humane way to kill whales at sea. Despite considerable investment and research by the Norwegian government, a suitable killing method has not been found.

Norwegian whalers target minke whales, which they kill with penthrite harpoons, a technology which has changed little in over 100 years. However a wide range of factors including visibility, sea swells and the movements of the boat and the whale make it impossible for even the most experienced of whalers to ensure a shot accurate enough to kill the whale instantly. The Norwegian government’s own official data shows that at least one in five whales do not die straight away and therefore suffer long and agonising deaths.

Undercover evidence

In 2010 an undercover investigation, conducted by WSPA, Dyrebeskyttelsen Norge and NOAH – for Dyrs Rettigheter, recorded footage of a minke whale being harpooned by a Norwegian whaling vessel and the subsequent failure of the whalers to ensure that it was dead over the next 22 minutes. The footage supports WSPA’s position that the sheer size of whales, coupled with the challenging hunting environment means that there is simply no humane way to kill these animals at sea and therefore it should not be done.

Condemnation of whale hunts is universal. Last year over 101, 000 people worldwide signed a petition directed at the Norwegian Prime Minister, urging him to put an end to the suffering of whales. Yet despite this rising concern, including amongst Norwegians, the government are still issuing high hunting quotas for whales each year. It is about time that the Norwegian government listen to the Norwegian population, think about Norway’s reputation and take steps to make whaling a thing of the past.

Joanna Toole is an oceans campaign coordinator at WSPA

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