COUNTRIES THAT STILL HUNT WHALES
Whaling is cruel and the demand for whale meat is falling. But, despite bans on commercial whaling and the trade in whale products accepted by most countries, whaling is still carried out by Japan, Norway and Iceland, who kill 2000 whales between them each year and also continue to trade in whale products.
Once it became apparent that the numbers of whales being killed were putting whale populations under threat, a ban on commercial whaling (hunting for commercial profit) was introduced in 1986 by the body that regulates whaling – the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
However, over 50,000 whales have been killed since the ban came into effect because of loopholes that have allowed some countries to carry on whaling. Between them, these countries kill around 2,000 whales a year – mainly fin, minke, Bryde’s, sei, humpback and sperm whales.
Whaling should stop. It is not probable that whale populations can survive large scale hunting as well as the other daily threats they face. Ban or no ban, whaling remains inhumane and whales are unsuitable for use by humans in this way (they are long living and slow to reproduce). There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea. The hunting process can never be an exact exercise – whales are a moving target, shot at on a moving vessel that sits on a moving sea. Grenade harpoons are often used to kill whales forcing them to be subjected to a long, slow and painful death. Monitoring and regulating whaling to keep kills to a certain number is also very difficult.
The whaling industry is in decline and the demand for meat is falling. Substantial government funding helps to keep it going in many places but the demand for the meat is not big enough, so much of the meat is stored in huge frozen stockpiles. There is also the issue of whale product use in cosmetics and health supplements, and whale meal feed.
Norway hunts minke whale’s under an ‘objection’ to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. Despite declining sales, government subsidies continue to keep a small number of fishermen hunting in the summer. Norway has aggressively fought to retain its right to hunt whales despite it being unnecessary, uneconomical and unquestionably cruel.
Norway has once again self allocated a quota of 1286 whales for its whalers to kill. In 2015, as of the end of October Norwegian whalers had reportedly killed some 660 minke whales. In 2014 and as of the 2nd September 2014 it was reported that Norway’s whalers had killed some 729 whales, up from 594 in 2013 and 464 in 2012. In 2011 Norwegian whalers killed a reported 533 minke whales out of a quota of 1286 but only some 19 fishing/whaling boats took part in the 2011 hunt, down from 33 in 2001. News reports in June 2013 indicate that only 18 vessels would be hunting this season, having killed a reduced number of 459 whales in 2012. In 2010 Norwegian whalers took only 468 whales (36%) of their self-allocated quota of 1286. Until 2012, this was the lowest number of animals killed by Norway in ten years.
Prior to the decision banning commercial whaling, Norway killed approximately 2,000 minke whales per year, and more than 51% of the products from those kills were exported to Japan. Minke whaling in Norway is conducted by fishermen, the vast majority of whom engage in fishing for other species outside the whaling season. Vessels range in size from 50 to 80 feet. Quotas have risen in recent years, from 425 in 1996 to 1286 in 2010 and the 2011 quota was also 1286. However, the actual take has fallen far short of the quota and only in 2001, has the quota been met.
In 1982, when the IWC adopted the moratorium on commercial whaling, Norway was one of the few governments to take an objection to the decision. When the ban on commercial whaling came into effect in 1986, Norway initially undertook a small-scale scientific hunt of minke whales; in 1993, it announced that it would resume commercial whaling under its objection.
The 2011 quota also established a limit of 65 for the number of whales that could be killed in the area around Svalbard; however, the whalers reached that quota early in the season, and on the 17th of June, Minister of Fisheries and Coastal Affairs Lisbeth Berg-Hansen announced that the 65 limit would be lifted, and that whalers could hunt as many whales as they can in the Svalbard area, up to a limit of 260 animals which is what remains for the area quota for the period 2011 – 2014.
Whale Meat Sales
The Norges Råfisklag (The Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organisation) organizes and arranges the sales of minke whales that are landed along the coast from Nordmøre to Finnmark. The Organisation has a well- developed service system and offers fishermen and buyers a number of services directly related to trading, sales and settlements. Not all whalers opt into the Råfisklaget’s brokerage system; some larger whaling companies with their own vessels sell whale meat themselves, and the Rafisklaget handles about 80% of all the minke whale meat landed in Norway. Domestic sales of whale meat have continued to flag, and the largest potential export market, Japan, remains for the most part closed to Norwegian products.
Consumer prices for whale meat in Norway vary according to the quality/type of meat offered (ie. steaks versus stewing chunks), and also according to the company offering the product. In 2005, for example, the Myklebust Trading Company offered whale meat packages at 90kr/kg, and whale stewing chunks at 70kr/kg. As of 2011, Myklebust is selling 5kg packages of whale beef for 550 kroner. In restaurants, whale is often available, especially in the north. Whale meat appetizers such as carpaccio can run 150 kr, while entrees such as marinated whale beef and whale beef with game sauce go for around 275 kroner.
By 2000, consumption of whale meat in Norway had fallen to about .25kg/per capita a year. In response, the Fisheries Research Institute of Norway commissioned a focus group on the perceptions of whale meat as a food product in Norway. The study found that whale meat had an “old-time” image and was considered to be an exclusive product rather than a commonly eaten food stuff. Focus group participants in large part said that they did not eat whale meat on a regular basis, that whale meat was seen as more expensive than other meats, and that it was considered to be a “political” food due to the whaling issue. The author of the study concluded that “whale meat needed a new image”, and that efforts should be made to improve packaging and to disseminate information on how to prepare the product in more modern ways.
In 2005, the Karsten Ellingsen Company launched several new products based on whale meat, foremost among them the “Lofotburger”. The burger, 50% minke whale and 50% pork, has gone on sale in dozens of supermarkets throughout Norway. The company also offers whale ham and pastrami. Ulf Ellingsen, spokesperson for the company, was clear about the rationale behind the whale burger: “We hope that this product hits the nail on the head and that a new generation get their eyes opened up to whale meat.”
However, these efforts by Ellingsen seem to have failed. In March of 2008, Ulf Ellingsen announced that the company was considering cutting out sales of whale meat, as it was making more money from salmon aquaculture than from whaling, and was having difficulties freeing up labour to process the whale products. As the Ellingsen company takes about 30% of the whale meat each year, this could have a dramatic effect on the industry. Yet another whale meat buyer, the Hopen Fiske & Sild company of Vagan, Norway declared bankruptcy in October of 2008.
The Norges Rafisklaget charges whalers 30 ore, and buyers 50 ore for each kilo of whale meat that is sold in districts that fall within the Rafisklaget’s management area to run a PR campaign to encourage Norwegian consumers to buy whale meat. The project designed a website geared solely toward the promotion of whale meat, and offers numerous recipe suggestions (see www.hvalbiff.no). In addition, in recent summers, the programme has hired two people to take whale meat “on the road” in the so-called whale-mobile. The tour ran through some 40 plus towns and cities in Norway offering free samples of whale meat and recipe ideas. By summer of 2009, however, it was decided that the whale-only approach was not working, and the whale mobile became the “Whale and Salmon”- mobile.
Trade in Whale Products
When the IWC ban on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, Norway originally agreed to halt trade in whale products, despite the fact that it maintains a reservation to the Appendix 1 listing of whales at CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). According to a report by the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, the inability of Norwegian whaling companies to export whale products to Japan cost the companies losses of up to about 9.8 million Norwegian kroner, or US$1.12 million, between 1993 (when Norway resumed commercial catches) and 2001.
In 2001, the Norwegian government decided to resume exports of meat and blubber to Japan, despite continued IWC and CITES bans. By the time the Norwegian government rescinded the ban on exports, it was reported in the press that as much as 600 tonnes of whale blubber were being stored in freezers in northern Norway. Although exports of blubber were eagerly anticipated by whalers, the transaction stalled after tests confirmed elevated levels of toxins such as dioxin and PCBs.
By March of 2001, the Norwegian Food Safety Organization Mattilsynet began to caution the need for limited consumption of whale blubber, and by 2003 the group recommended that pregnant and nursing women avoid whale meat and blubber and altogether. These health warnings were re-issued in May of 2009.
Exports currently represent the only viable means of making large profits from meat and blubber for the Norwegian whaling industry. Blubber in particular has been a large and costly problem for the whaling industry. In 2002, the Norwegian government spent 4 million kroner to destroy 700 tons of blubber lying in freezer storage; it eventually came to light that much of the blubber had been used for pet food. Icelandic nationals imported eight tonnes of minke whale meat and blubber from a Norwegian whaling company owned by Ole Mindor Myklebust in July 2002, and 17 more tonnes in October of 2002. The frozen Norwegian whale meat initially sold well, as it was going for a low price of 993 Icelandic kronur per kilo, below the cost of beef.
However, in 2003 it was discovered that the Norwegian whale meat contained much higher levels of mercury than the minkes taken in Iceland’s ‘scientific’ hunt. As a result of this research into toxin levels in whale meat (both Icelandic and Norwegian), the Icelandic Surgeon General’s office issued a warning to pregnant and nursing mothers to restrict their intake of whale meat due to concerns over high levels of mercury. A recommendation by the Norwegian Food Safety Authority also recommends that pregnant and nursing women avoid whale meat and blubber altogether.
Although a shipment of 5 tons of whale meat was exported to Japan in 2008, and cleared for sale in February of 2009, the meat was not sold due to bacterial contamination and high lactic acid levels. In January of 2009, 4.320 tonnes of whale meat were confiscated by Mattilsynet; the meat had been sitting in storage in the Vom og Hundemat pet food facilty in Trøgstad, Norway. The stockpile was discovered when Mattilsynet received a request to grant a license for export of 720 kilos of whale meat for human consumption to the Faroe Islands. The whale meat originated from the Lofothval whale processing facility, and was from the 2007 and 2008 hunts.
Norway has also imported several small shipments of whale oil from Iceland in recent years.
In 2009, WDC, in conjunction with WWF commissioned an independent study of the economics of the Norwegian whaling industry, which has received millions of dollars in subsidies from the government in recent years to support development of the whaling industry. The government has offered subsidies for fuel (via tax exemptions), storage and or destruction of whale blubber (for which there is no domestic market), and research and marketing support for whaling.
Norway spent US$10.5 million covering the costs of an inspection programme from 1993 until 2006, when it was scrapped due to the losses it was causing the country’s whalers. The government has spent more than US$4.9 million since 1992 on public information, public relations, and lobbying campaigns to garner support for its whaling and seal hunting industries. Government subsidies for the whaling industry have equalled almost half of the gross value of all whale meat landings made through the Rafisklaget, the Norwegian Fishermen’s Sales Organization. Two Norwegian state-run entities, Fiskerifond and Innovasjon Norge, have given grants for developing the industry. Lofothval, a whaling company established in 2006, has received two grants of 100,000 kr each in 2007 and 2008 from Innovasjon Norge, a nationalized company that seeks to promote local industrial development. Fiskerifond also gave a small grant to Myklebust Trading, a whale meat processing company, “to develop marketing links for minke whale meat”. Fiskerifond is an industry research funding mechanism answerable to the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries.
Norwegian Whaling in Crisis?
In April 2010, representatives of the Norwegian fishing industry called on the Fisheries Minister to raise subsidies to the whaling industry there, as they continue to have difficulties selling whale meat. According to press reports, however, the Minister was less than receptive to the idea, saying that it is up to the whalers and whale meat buyers to develop their own marketing scheme for whale meat. The head of the Nordland County Fishermen’s Association, Steiner Jonassen, said that he fears that the whaling industry “will slowly, but surely die out” if increased sales are not promoted both through marketing and export.
Although two more boats have requested whaling licenses in 2011 than in 2010, according to the Norwegian news service NRK, the whaling industry is in “total” crisis. The head of the Norwegian Minke Whalers Association, Bjørn Hugo Bendiksen called on the government for help with marketing whale meat to supermarkets. Bendiksen was quoted as saying that whale meat sales and marketing problems are tough, and traditional whale meat buyers agree. Aage Eriksen, a fish buyer from Vågan who has bought whale meat for many years said in April of 2011 that “Every year the Board discusses whether we should buy whale meat. The reason we have discussed this is that we have trouble getting the meat onto supermarket shelves.”
Norway 2011 Whaling Season Ends
Norway’s 2011 whaling season closed on August 31st with a total of 528 minke whales were reported killed, as compared to 468 killed in 2010. Even though this still falls far short of the quota for 2011, which was set at 1286, one would have to go back to 2008 to find a whaling season in which over 500 whales were killed. Worryingly for the Norwegian Government only 19 ships took part in the hunt, a remarkable drop from 33 vessels only ten years earlier, and Norway’s Directorate of Fisheries has stated that the sector needs to recruit new members if it is to survive.
Iceland claims it is allowed to break the ban also because it left the Commission in 1992 but was ‘allowed’ to re-join 10 years later under a ‘reservation’. Iceland’s ‘reservation’ is contested by many other Commission member states.
Icelandic whalers have slaughtered more than 35,000 whales since the late nineteenth century. Iceland refuses to recognize the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling and currently allocates its whalers a quota to kill endangered fin whales mostly for export to Japan (where it joins a huge frozen stockpile estimated at several tons). The collapse of the Japanese market for fin whale meat demonstrated the true commercial nature of Iceland’s industrial whaling – no market led to no hunting. Most of the minke whale meat is fed to unsuspecting tourists as less than 2% of Icelanders regularly consume whale meat these days.
One way to affect Icelandic whaling is by stopping the transfer of Iceland’s whale products through EU ports.
Iceland’s Current Whaling Summary:
2015 – killed 155 fin whales and 29 minke whales
2014 – killed 137 endangered fin whales and 24 minke whales
2013 – killed 134 fin whales and 18 minke whales
2011 – 58 minke whales
2010 – 148 fin whales and 60 minke whales.
2009 – 125 fin whales and 91 minke whales
2008 – 38 minke whales (commercial quota of 40)
2007 – 60 minke whales
2006 – 7 fin whales and 1 minke whales (self allocated quota)
When the International Whaling Commission agreed in 1982 to stop all commercial whaling by the 1986 whaling season, Iceland did not take an objection to the decision, as other whaling countries did. After the moratorium took effect, Iceland continued a small “scientific whaling” programme, and killed some 60 whales a year until 1989, but then left the IWC in 1992. Iceland rejoined in 2002 with a legally disputed reservation against the moratorium. Many countries objected to Icelandʼs attempt to circumvent international regulations, and some countries still do not even recognize Icelandʼs membership of the IWC.
Iceland resumed scientific whaling in 2003 and, in a five year “research” programme, killed a total of 200 minke whales from 2003 until 2007. Without even waiting for its supposed research study to be completed, Iceland resumed commercial whaling under its reservation to the moratorium in 2006.
In January 2009, just as the Icelandic government was voted out of office due the country’s economic problems, the out-going Fisheries Minister authorized a massive increase in the commercial hunting quotas for both fin and minke whales. The incoming Fisheries Minister declined to overturn his predecessor’s last minute decision and large-scale commercial whaling in Iceland resumed in 2009, with 125 fin whales and 81 minke whales killed.
Icelandʼs 2010 commercial whale hunt was the largest of its kind in decades, with 148 endangered fin whales and 60 minkes whales killed. In May 2011, HAFRO, Icelandʼs Marine Research Institute proposed quotas for 2011-2012 at 154 fin and 216 minke whales, with a possible carry-over of 20% of any unused quota from 2010. In addition, HAFRO suggested that if Iceland decided to expand its minke whales hunt further afield, a take of up 121 minke whales would be allowed in what is known as the CM area, around the Jan Mayen islands, an area for which Norway also issues quotas.
When whaling resumed in Iceland in 2003, minke whale meat sold poorly; efforts were made to encourage the public to try whale meat, as well as to develop new products such as smoked minke meat. Pickled whale blubber is consumed during a traditional Icelandic winter festival known as Þorrablót, but is not in demand year-round.
With the resumption of a commercial fin whale hunt in 2006, additional difficulties in domestic sales of whale meat were experienced, especially with the significant yield of meat from a fin whale, which is at least 10 times the size of a minke whale. The Icelandic press reported in early 2007 that 179 tonnes of “slaughter waste” or “a proportion of about one-third to one-half of the fin whales” killed in the commercial hunt had been dumped in landfills.
Historically, Iceland exported much of its whale meat to Japan as its domestic market is very small.
According to a 2005 research report, it was estimated that the domestic market for minke whale meat in Iceland would be in the range of only 5 to 15 tonnes a year at most. However, due to marketing campaigns, the amount of minke whale meat being consumed in Iceland appears to be rising. A poll conducted by Capacent Gallup in Iceland for the conservation groups INCA/IFAW in 2006 indicated that only 1.1% of Icelandic households eat whale meat weekly; by 2010 some 5% of Icelanders said that they eat whale meat.
The Icelandic whaling industry has been working to increase domestic sales, for minke whale meat in particular. More than 100 restaurants, shops and supermarkets around Iceland are now selling whale meat products, up from only 50 in 2007. The tourist market in particular has been targeted, as the industry tries to sell the idea of whale meat as an exotic Icelandic food.
Given the difficulties in selling whale meat domestically, Iceland has repeatedly stated its interest in re- opening trade in whale products. Both the minke and fin whalers have expressed interest in exporting meat to Japan, although a Japanese diplomat in Oslo responded in 2006 that Japan already had “more than enough whale meat”.
Iceland lodged a reservation to the Appendix I listing of most great whales when it joined CITES in 2000. Citing this reservation, Icelandic nationals imported eight tonnes of minke whale meat and blubber from a Norwegian whaling company owned by Ole Mindor Myklebust in July 2002, and 17 more tonnes in October of 2002. The frozen Norwegian whale meat initially sold well, as it was going for a low price of 993 kronur per kilo, below the cost of beef.
However, in 2003 it was discovered that the Norwegian whale meat contained much higher levels of mercury than the minkes taken in Icelandʼs ʻscientificʼ hunt. As a result of this research into toxin levels in whale meat (both Icelandic and Norwegian), the Icelandic Surgeon Generalʼs office issued a warning to pregnant and nursing mothers to restrict their intake of whale meat due to concerns over high levels of mercury.
In September of 2006, it was announced that Iceland would sell up to two tonnes of minke whale meat to the Faroe Islands. The first export of 0.5 tonnes of whale meat from Iceland to the Faroe Islands occurred that year, followed by a shipment of some 90 tonnes of whale meat to the Faroes in late 2008. Two shipments of whale meat were sent to the Faroe Islands in 2010.
Although some countries have consistently opposed Icelandʼs trade in whale products, the world has largely turned a blind eye. Now, Icelandʼs whaling industry is growing and diversifying; creating new commercially valuable products (including potentially whale meal/animal feed and whale oil) from the hundreds of fin and minke whales it kills each year. In 2010, the Hvalur hf fin whaling company began using whale oil to fuel its whaling ships.
Given that Iceland and Japan hold reservations to the listing of whales by CITES, only the exporting country (in this case Iceland) needs to issue a permit. When news of the first fin whale meat shipments went public, Japanese government officials initially indicated that they had been unaware of the whale trade. The meat was initially held in customs, but was released for sale in December of 2008.
During 2009 and 2010, exports of whale oil to Norway and other frozen products to Japan were conducted under their respective reservations to the CITES Appendix I listing of whales, while a shipment of whale meat to Latvia in early 2010 violated both CITES and European Union laws.
Since then, Icelandic whaling interests have stated openly that the export market is the main driving force behind their resumption of commercial whaling. Gunnar Bergmann Jonsson, head of the minke whalers organization, declared that they were looking to “sell 90 percent of the meat to Japan.” In 2009, Kristjan Loftsson, owner/director of the Hvalur fin whaling company stated that he planned to export at least 1500 tons of whale meat and products to Japan.
Data uncovered in Icelandʼs statistical database reveal that the countryʼs exports of whale products have dramatically increased. Since January of 2010, more than 1183 tonnes of frozen whale products have been shipped to Japan.
Iceland has also been working on new applications for whale products.
The Economics of Whaling
Icelandʼs scientific whaling was extremely expensive, costing almost 30 million Icelandic kronur (over US$440,000) in associated costs, such as vessel rental, in 2003. This escalated to a total of 78.9 million kronur in 2006 (almost US$ 1.2 million). In all, it cost Iceland over US$3 million to kill and research 200 minke whales.
In March, 2010, the Icelandic government released a report on the supposed economic impacts of whaling on the Icelandic economy, and estimated that if 150 fin whales and 150 minke whales were to be killed each year, “the cod fishing quota could be increased by 2,200 tons, the haddock quota by 4,900 tons and the capelin quota by 13,800 tons.” The University of Icelandʼs Institute for Economic Studies, stated that they believed that this could add as much as US$94 million to the economy due to increased profits from larger fishing quotas that could be available if whales were “culled” to protect fish stocks.
In an effort to rebut the bogus claims that culling whales could enhance fisheries output, WDC commissioned renowned marine mammal ecology expert Dr. Peter Corkeron to examine the whales vs. fish argument. In a review that focuses on the Icelandic approach to managing whales, Dr. Corkeron has debunked the myth often cited by pro-whalers that whales consume such large numbers of commercially significant fish that they need to be culled.
There are many additional flaws in the Icelandic economic report, not least that it did not try to measure the potential economic backlash that could arise from consumers unwilling to support a country engaged in commercial whaling and trade in whale products. In May, 2009 for example, WDC joined with other groups to commission a public opinion poll of consumers in the UK, a key export market for Icelandʼs seafood. On the day of the pollʼs release, the groups protested outside of the Icelandic embassy in London.
From a sample size of 2,249 adults, the YouGov poll found that 82% of those queried disagreed with Icelandʼs decision to kill whales, while 64% stated that they would avoid buying Icelandic fish, prawns and other products in protest. Similar polls in the U.S. indicate that a majority of Americans would also be averse to buying fish from Iceland due to its whaling.
In contrast to the economic and political liability represented by whaling in Iceland, whale watching is actually valuable to the Icelandic economy. In 2009, roughly 125,000 people took a whale watch trip in Icelandic waters. These whale watchers provide significant direct revenue of more than US$4 million in direct taxes to the Icelandic economy, as well as add-on tourism expenditures such as hotel and restaurant purchases. This is a massive, positive boost to the Icelandic economy.
Unfortunately, according to the Icelandic Whale Watch Association (IceWhale) and the Icelandic Travel Industry Association (SAF), it appears as if minke whaling might be having a negative impact on the industry. In a letter to the Minister of Fisheries on 10 May 2011, the groups stated that the number of tourists taking part in a whale watch in Iceland in 2010 had fallen to 115,000 – a drop of some 10% from the previous year. Additionally, the groups have stated that it is increasingly harder to find minke whales, and that whale watching boats are having to travel farther to see fewer minke whales.
IceWhale and SAF also protested the fact that on the 30th of April, 2011, the minke whaling vessel Hrafnreyður KO killed and processed a minke whale within the protected whale watch area in Faxafloi Bay, an area meant to be off- limits to the whalers. The vessel was escorted back to harbour by the Icelandic Coast Guard, but resumed whaling in early May.
Effect of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami on Icelandic Whaling.
Icelandʼs 2011 fin whale season was expected to have opened in late June. However, the fin whaling company Hvalur hf, announced on 10 May that it would not conduct fin whaling in the first part of the summer. Citing the uncertainties in the Japanese market following the devastating impacts of the March 11 earthquake, Hvalurʼs CEO, Kristjan Loftsson, said that the company would postpone a final decision on whether to resume hunting, until 2012.
Although the suspension of Icelandʼs fin whaling was a welcome announcement, WDC believes that this does not reflect a change in Icelandʼs whaling policy; it is just a delay in the start of the season reflecting the situation in Japan. Iceland stopped fin whaling before (in 2007) only to resume again at a much higher level (2009). It has previously sustained its entire whaling fleet and infrastructure for well over a decade.
Iceland still self-allocated quota of 154 fin whales for 2011. As it was, Iceland did not kill any fin whales, but it reserved the right to carry any unused quota over to 2012 if circumstances changed. In the end, no fin whales were taken in 2012.
Iceland still has thousands of tonnes of fin whale products in frozen storage from previous yearsʼ hunts. There is little market for fin whale meat in Iceland and Hvalur hf is focused on finding export markets for its products, not just meat. It has, so far, exported to Japan under their respective CITES reservations, but Japan is not the only potential legal market for whale products; as stated above, Norway and the Faroe islands have both been targeted as markets for Icelandic whale oil and meat.
Iceland and the European UnionIn 2009, following the collapse of its economy, Iceland applied to join the European Union. WDC believed that Icelandʼs EU accession negotiations provided an opportunity to end Icelandʼs whaling and trade for good, however, the Icelandic general election on 27 April returned to power the two parties who governed Iceland for decades up to and including the 2008 economic collapse. The new Government announced that it would end all negotiations with the EU on accession and immediately abolished the Ministery of the Environment, by making it a department within the Fisheries Ministry.
Every year in the Faroe Islands, a territory of Denmark, hundreds of pilot whales and other species including bottlenose dolphins, Atlantic white-sided dolphins and northern bottlenose whales, are hunted for their meat in what is called a “drive hunt”. The techniques used are intensely stressful and cruel. Entire family groups are rounded up out at sea by small motor boats and driven to the shore. Typically, once they are stranded in shallow water, blunt-ended metal hooks are inserted into their blowholes and used to drag the whales up the beach, where they are killed with a knife cut to their major blood vessels.
In 2012 the Faroese killed 713 pilot whales and over 1000 in the 2013 season. They also hunt other species including bottlenose and Risso’s dophins.
In recent years our campaigning against the hunt has taken a lower profile in the belief that overt and vociferous public pressure has only encouraged the hunts to continue and actually increase in response to public outcry. However, our more recent engagement with communities and authorities in the Faroe Islands has shown some potentially promising ways forward as we continue to seek solutions through a better understanding of these practices, and engagement with likeminded grassroots coalitions in the Faroe Islands.
WDC has been actively trying to stop this hunt, and also to prevent the Faroe Islands from resuming commercial whaling and international trade in whale meat. We will not pretend that our task is simple. Whaling is a long tradition of this remote and proud community that is proving hard to change. But traditions evolve over time and, rest assured, WDC will not give up until drive hunting is consigned to the history books in the Faroe Islands, and its children can eat safely.
Whale Meat is Heavily Contaminated
Pilot whales in this region – the main species targeted – carry high levels of mercury and persistent organic compounds in their meat and blubber. Long-term independent studies of children in the Faroe Islands have directly linked neurological delays, cardiovascular problems and other development problems to their mothers pre-natal consumption of whale meat. In addition, recent studies have shown a direct link between the occurrence of Parkinsons disease, hypertension and arteriosclerosis in Faroese adults and eating pilot whale meat. Despite this, the hunts and consumption continues.
The Faroese authorities first issued an advisory notice almost ten years ago, warning certain vulnerable consumers (such as pregnant and nursing women) to eat less whale meat, but a whole new generation has matured since then and there is concern that new mothers today might not be aware of this recommendation.
Progress is painfully slow. For example it was only in 2008, years after medical officers advised people to cut consumption of whale meat, that the Health Minister stopped whale meat being offered in hospitals.
Dietary recommendations on the consumption of pilot whale meat and blubber were updated in June 2011 and advise one meal (250 grams of meat, and 50 grams of blubber) per month. Special recommendations have been advised for girls and women to avoid whale blubber as long as they are planning to have children.
The Faroe Islands drive hunt is not subject to international control as it targets small species of whales (mainly pilot whales and some dolphin species) that the International Whaling Commission (IWC) does not currently manage. As the Faroe Islands are not members of the European Union, they are not subject to European legislation that forbids whale hunting. Unfortunately therefore, there are no legal mechanisms currently available to prevent the hunt.
Although one regional whale management body has given scientific advice suggesting that the hunts are sustainable, the body is comprised of only whaling nations, which is likely to bias its findings. However, even that organization has recognized that pilot whales are impacted by human activities such as fishing and pollution, which could well affect the long term health of populations. The population status for some of the species killed in the Faroe Islands drive hunts remain under debate, as biases in survey data have hampered attempts to make accurate abundance estimates.
While most public attention has been focused on the takes of the larger pilot whales, the data provided by the Faroe’s government shows that dolphins are also being targeted; more than 3200 of these smaller cetaceans have been killed since 1999.
Japan continues to kill whales and sell the meat from its hunts, despite the ban (moratorium) on commercial whaling. Japan’s whalers have recently been able to exploit a loophole in the founding treaty of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which allows whaling for ‘scientific research’. However, as of 31st March 2014, the UN’s International Court of Justice has ordered it to stop whaling in Antarctica and that its so-called ‘scientific whaling’ is not compatible with the ICRW, the rulings of the IWC, or international law. On the 27th Nov 2015 Japan announced that it would resume so-called scientific whaling in Antarctica despite the ICJ ruling and after failing to get IWC support for its new lethal programme, NEWREP-A.
During the 2013-14 season, Japan took 251 minke whales in the Antarctic. As of the 31st March 2014, Japanese Antarctic whaling was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In a damning ruling the Court has found: Japan’s whaling in Antarctica does not comply with the IWC’s definition of scientific permit whaling; that Japan is in contravention with the moratorium on commercial whaling; that Japan is in contravention with the moratorium on factory ship whaling; that Japan is in contravention of the Southern Ocean Sanctuary. The Court orders Japan to cease all Antarctic whaling and not to issue any more permits to whale in Antarctica.
Because Japan hunts whales in Antarctica in the southern summer, catch statistics are often recorded over the change from one year to the other. In the 2012-2013 Antarctic season Japan killed a reported 103 minke whales. In 2011/2012 Japan killed some 445 whales in total: 297 minke whales, 50 Bryde’s whales, 2 fin whales, 95 sei whales and one sperm whale. In 2010/2011 Japan also killed some 445 whales. This figure includes the 2010 hunts in the open ocean of the North Pacific where 3 sperm whales, 100 sei whales, 50 Bryde’s and 14 minke whales were killed, whilst in the coastal hunt in the North Pacific, 105 minke whales were killed. In Antarctica (between December 2010 and February 2011), the Japanese fleet killed 2 fin whales and 171 minke whales.
Japan has a limited tradition of small scale whaling that dates back centuries. However, its large scale, industrial whaling is a relatively new phenomenon, starting after World War II when animal protein was in short supply. Japan continues to kill whales and sell the meat from its hunts, despite the ban (moratorium) on commercial whaling. To do this it exploits a loophole in the founding treaty of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), which allows whaling for scientific research. It also hunts in an IWC-designated sanctuary in Antarctica, under an objection it lodged to that decision in 1994.
Currently, Japan allocates its whalers annual research quotas for 10 sperm, 100 sei, 50 Bryde’s and 120 minke whales in the North Pacific (60 of which are killed by Small Type Coastal Whalers), and up to 935 minkes and 50 fin whales in Antarctica, making a total of 1225 whales a year. Hunting of 50 humpbacks a year was planned to begin late in 2007, however worldwide opposition forced Japan to postpone this hunt. Japan continues to threaten to include humpbacks as a part of its quota, despite not having killed any, which many conservation groups see as a negotiating tool in its discussions at the IWC.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling on all great whale species in 1982, with the ban coming into effect in 1986. Japan, along with Norway and the USSR, immediately lodged a legal objection to the moratorium, which exempted them from the ban’s effect. Japan took over 5,500 whales ‘under objection’ in the first three years of the ban, but was persuaded by political pressure to remove the objection in full by 1988. It is therefore now bound by the ban on commercial whaling.
However, Article VIII of the IWC’s founding treaty, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) permits contracting governments to issue ‘special permits’ to their nationals for scientific research. To avoid wastage, the Article states that “Any whales taken under these special permits shall so far as practicable be processed and the proceeds shall be dealt with in accordance with directions issued by the Government by which the permit was granted”.
The provision was not intended by the drafters of the ICRW to allow for large scale lethal research for commercial use of the ‘byproducts’, but several countries have exploited Article VIII to either avoid the IWC’s bans on hunting specific species, or to ‘top up’ their quotas. Japan, for example, killed 840 whales for scientific research between 1954 and 1986.
Because it is a provision in the treaty, Article VIII was believed to prevail over the whaling moratorium which is a regulation in the ICRW’s Schedule. However, the ICJ has now thrown this understanding into doubt, saying that Scientific permit whaling has to be very narrowly defined to not be caught by the moratorium provisions.
However, this still makes it a monumental loophole that the IWC cannot close without amending the treaty. Use of the scientific whaling loophole clearly defies the spirit of moratorium and the will of the IWC, and the Commission has adopted over 40 resolutions denying the validity and necessity of scientific whaling programmes and calling on Japan and other nations to stop taking whales in this way. However, these resolutions are non-binding and the whaling nations have ignored them.
Japan started Scientific Whaling in 1988 as soon as its objection was fully withdrawn, but it restricted its operations. Having killed an average of 1,800 whales a year from four species under objection, Japan’s scientific whaling focused on just one species – southern hemisphere minke whales; catching an average of 308 annually for the next six years.
In 1994, the IWC declared the Southern Ocean a sanctuary for whales, banning whaling there. Japan, however, did not stop its Antarctic hunts and lodged an objection to the sanctuary, exempting it from the effect of the ban. That same year, Japan started a scientific whaling programme in the North Pacific, taking up to 100 minke whales a year there in JARPN (Japanese Research Programme in the Pacific).
In 2000, Japan increased its Pacific operation again, adding permits for 50 Bryde’s whales and 10 sperm whales. In 2002, it increased the North Pacific minke quota to 150 and added 50 sei whales. This increased again the following year to 160 minkes and 100 sei whales.
The next increase came when the original 18-year research permit for the Antarctic hunt expired in 2005 and JARPA II (Japanese Research Programme in the Antarctic) was developed. JARPA II proposed to kill up to 935 Antarctic minke whales (more than double the previous number), 50 humpback whales and 50 fin whales a year for 16 years. The full programme commenced in late 2007 following a 2-year ‘feasibility study which began in late 2005 in which 935 minkes and ten fin whales were targeted annually.
Although it cannot prevent the research taking place, the IWC requires the review of Scientific Permits by its Scientific Committee. However, unlike other scientific reviews this is far from independent and the reviewers include the authors of the permit, including researchers at the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR), which oversees the hunts and conducts the ‘research’. This is a clear conflict of interest since the ICR sells the meat from the hunts and benefits financially from increases in the programme.
In 2009, published DNA analyses of whale meat from Japanese markets indicted that as many as 150 large whales, from vulnerable coastal stocks were taken annually as bycatch by Japanese fishers. In 2001, Japan changed its legislation to allow the commercial sale of whales caught incidentally; entangled in fishing nets designed to catch coastal fish. A high percentage of the whales sold (as much as 46%) proved to be from an endangered stock of minke whales, the J-stock. According to IWC population estimates, this high rate of bycatch poses a significant threat to the survivability of the J-stock; if these trends continue, the population could face extinction within a few decades.
A Subsidized Industry
The Japanese Government issues research whaling permits to the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) which, in turn, contracts a single whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku, to provide the vessels and crew. The ICR releases the products from the hunts twice a year to Kyodo Senpaku to sell at a price fixed by the ICR and Ministry of Fisheries to wholesalers, processors and local authorities. The primary purpose of the sale is to cover the costs of whaling and research, and although recent market conditions are taken into account, in recent years ICR has set prices rather high relative to demand.
Wholesalers and retailers, however, are subject to market forces and their prices reflect current market conditions. In recent years margins have been squeezed and there have been reports of unsold meat and retailers cutting prices to ’get it off their shelves’. Wholesalers and retailers may be willing to support losses in the short run, in order to maintain their rights to purchase and sell whaling by-products in future years, but in the long run these losses are not sustainable. Furthermore actual sales have been less than planned sales in recent years. For example, in 2006/7 planned sales were US$ 58.0 million, while actual sales were US$ 46.5 million. In 2007/8 planned sales were US$64.6 million and actual sales were US$48.8 million. The report showed that wholesale prices of whale meat per kg in Japan have been falling since 1994, starting at just over US$30/kg in 1994, and declining to US$16.40 in 2006.
Even though the ICR sets prices high relative to demand, they are not high enough to cover all costs. High subsidies are required to maintain Japan’s “scientific whaling” operations, and these subsidies have increased in recent years as the hunts have expanded. There are three main sources of subsidy: the National Subsidy for the Nishin Maru research whaling programme (JARPA) in Antarctica, a commissioning fee for the coastal research whaling fleet off Japan, and a recently added budget supplement to cover costs involved in dealing with recent protest activities surrounding the JARPA hunt.
In 2009, WDC, in conjunction with WWF commissioned a study of theeconomics of the Japanese whaling industry. The report notes similar use of taxpayer funds by Japan. For example, during the 2008-09 season, the Japanese whaling industry, needed US$12 million in taxpayer money just to break even. Overall, Japanese subsidies for whaling amount to US$164 million since 1988.
So Why Does Japan Whale?
The expansion of Japan’s hunts is clearly not motivated by a growing market for the meat. Japan currently sells around 7,500 tons of edible whale meat annually from ‘scientific’ hunts, small whale and dolphin hunts and ‘bycatch’. Demand continues to fall and consumption of whale meat per person has dropped from about 2,000 grams in 1967 to about 50 grams in 2005. Early in 2009, shops in Japan had to reduce whale meat prices by half to move stockpiles; more than 4,000 tonnes of frozen whale meat was still in storage at the close of 2009.
The dramatic increase in whaling conducted beyond the IWC’s control has led several members of the Commission to argue that the moratorium should be lifted and commercial quotas set within a management regime operated by the IWC. However, the Commission has not been able to agree any management scheme capable of controlling whaling or detecting and punishing infractions, and the problem remains that Article VIII still provides a loophole to top up quotas or take additional species even if commercial whaling is legal again.
Working to Gain a Majority of Votes in the IWC
To get what it wants at the IWC, in recent years, Japan has been actively recruiting a number of developing countries with no genuine interest in whaling to join the IWC and vote in its favour, against the ban on commercial whaling. Currently some of these countries no longer respond to Japan´s interests. Officials in Japan and some target countries acknowledge publicly and privately that Japan uses development aid as an incentive to join the IWC and vote in its favour. With the accession of Cambodia as the 70th IWC member just before the IWC meeting in the Caribbean in June 2006, the balance of power previously held by the anti-whaling nations finally tipped and the pro-whaling countries held over 50% of the votes. They wasted no time adopting the St Kitts declaration, which included the statement that the moratorium “is no longer required”.
The membership of the IWC has continued to grow, and as of March, 2012 there are 89 members, evenly divided between those in favour of whaling and those against. Overturning the moratorium will take a three quarters majority vote of the IWC. The pro-whaling nations do not have that power, but the risk remains that a deal will be brokered to exchange the moratorium for some concessions by Japan on its scientific whaling and to rescue the IWC from a hostile takeover. WDC has opposed all of the deals proposed in recent years. As long as the right to conduct Scientific Whaling remains in the treaty, there is no incentive for Japan to comply, nor is there a mechanism to force it to. Furthermore, if whaling resumes, it is likely that CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), which bans international commercial trade in whale products in deference to the IWC, will permit trade to resume. And, most importantly, both history and current practice show that whaling can never be sustainable, controllable or humane.
A New Deal for Japan?
Since 2007, the IWC has been working on a “peace process” aimed at calming the increasingly fractious annual meetings, and bringing commercial whaling back under the Commission’s control. A new proposal was discussed at the annual meeting in 2010. Its basic premise was a ‘cooling off’ period of ten years during which the moratorium would be suspended, and all nations currently whaling (including under the subsistence exemption) could continue to hunt, although at lower than current levels for Norway, Iceland and Japan.
Latest whaling update
In 2010/2011 Japan killed some 445 whales. In its self-allocated Antarctic hunt between December 2010 and February 2011 (Japan hunts over the southern summer season) Japan took 173 whales (2 fin and 171 minke whales). In the North Pacific in its coastal hunt, Japan killed 105 minke whales between April and October. In the North Pacific in its pelagic hunt Japan killed 167 whales between Jun and August (consisting of 3 sperm, 100 sei, 50 Bryde’s and 14 minke whales).
In mid-2011 it was estimated that the Japanese Government’s stockpile of whale meat could have reached 6,025 tons, higher than the previous record of 5,969 tons set in April 2006.
Reports by the Japanese based Dolphin and Whale Action Network indicates that in 2012, despite a hugely reduced catch because of the actions of Sea Shepherd and disruption by the tsunami, the Institute of Cetacean Research (ICR) was only able to sell a small amount of prime meat products from its commercial hunt in the North Pacific. Of 1211.9 tons of whale meat that were sent to the public auctions which ended in March 2012, the ICR were only able to sell some 303.1 tons of whale meat. Three-quarters of the available meat, 908.8 tons, was left unsold.
The situation was further complicated when the Nissin-Maru returned from its so-called research expedition in Antarctica freshly dumping 266 minke whales and a fin whale at Oi Suisan Pier in Tokyo Bay on March 31st. Extrapolating from the amount of byproduct produced from a single whale in the past, the volume of whale meat involved is likely over 1000 tons.
Thus despite the reduced hunt in Antarctica, Japan is unable to sell all the whales it is killing. Its imports from Iceland have simply deceased the price, rather than the market being able to absorb more meat. It would appear that the market is growing smaller by the month.
In December 2012 the UK again stated its opposition to Japan’s continued whaling, articulating what many governments around the world are feeling.
Australia Takes Japan to Court
In June 2010 Australia instituted proceedings before the International Court of Justice against the Government of Japan, alleging that, “Japan’s continued pursuit of a large scale programme of whaling under the Second Phase of its Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic (“JARPA II”) [is] in breach of obligations assumed by Japan under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (“ICRW”), as well as its other international obligations for the preservation of marine mammals and marine environment”.
The Court gave its judgement in march 2014 and Japan was immediately ordered to end its current Antarctic whaling programme.
ABORIGINAL SUBSISTENCE WHALING
The international community recognises the rights of certain aboriginal peoples to hunt a limited number of whales to meet nutritional and cultural needs. Over the last few years certain aboriginal subsistence whaling communities have abused the definition by allowing whale meat to enter the commercial exchange chain, with whale meat being sold to tourists. This has allowed for a blurring of the definition which has simply assisted commercial whaling interests to advance their arguments to be allowed to resume commercial whaling.
Despite this, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling, which established the IWC, contains no definition of the key terms, including “aboriginal”, “aboriginal subsistence whaling (ASW)” or “needs”. Consequently, and also as a result of the IWC not implementing a management regime for these hunts, the establishment of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling quotas and the operation of these hunts remain controversial issues for the IWC.
The ICRW does not allow for the allocation of ASW quotas to specific aboriginal people; it sets quotas on relevant stocks from which indigenous groups whose needs have been recognized by the IWC can take whales. A government seeking an ASW quota must submit a “needs statement” (no specification or terms of reference for this document is provided by the IWC and, in fact, St Vincent has never provided such a statement in support of its aboriginal quota). The Scientific Committee assesses the status of the stocks and, based on a mathematical calculation specific to that population or species, advises if the catch limit is safe. The Commission must then decide by three-quarter majority whether to set the catch limit requested. Notably, several of the whale populations currently subject to Aboriginal Whaling would probably not be considered suitable candidates for a commercial hunt and the IWC uses a less precautionary catch calculation method to set ASW quotas than it would for commercial quotas. Essentially, when weighing human need against the survival of the stock, the IWC gives a greater emphasis to human need in ASW than commercial hunts. It is therefore vital for the whales that aboriginal whaling is well managed by the IWC to avoid abuse of this category.
The Commission has begun developing an Aboriginal Whaling Management Scheme (AWMS). Like the better known Revised Management Scheme (RMS) for commercial whaling that has long been under consideration by the IWC, the AWMS has two components: the quota setting mechanism which has now been developed for almost all the stocks concerned and a supervision and control scheme to establish how ASW will be managed in the future. Unsatisfactorily, the IWC has made, in the last decade, no progress on the latter, including how to document and evaluate needs and ensure compliance with catch limits and reporting requirements.
Recent Quotas and Kills
The IWC has historically set ASW quotas in five year blocks, but since the IWC now meets every two years, has moved to six year blocks. The previous quotas set in 2008 expired in 2012 and were up for renewal in July 2012 at the IWC annual meeting in Panama. Canada sets its own quotas and the federal government raised the number of bowhead whales that can be hunted each year in Nunavut to three in May 2012.
In July 2012, the IWC issued new quotas for the Russian Federation, the USA and Bequians of St Vincent and the Grenadines. The IWC rejected a proposal from Denmark on behalf of the hunters of Greenland, after Denmark refused to accept an amendment to their quota request, and in pushing their inflated proposal to a vote, lost the whole quota from the end of 2012.
The IWC Quotas for 2013-2018
Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort Seas stock of bowhead whales (taken by native people of Alaska and Chukotka) -A total of up to 336 bowhead whales can be landed in the period 2013 – 2018, with no more than 67 whales struck in any year (and up to 15 unused strikes may be carried over each year).
Eastern North Pacific gray whales (taken by native people of Chukotka) – A total catch of 744 whales is allowed for the years 2013 – 2018 with a maximum of 140 in any one year.
Humpback whales taken by St Vincent and The Grenadines – For the seasons 2013-2018 the number of humpback whales to be taken shall not exceed 24.
The IWC Quotas for 2014-2018 (Agreed at IWC65 in Slovenia)
The number of fin whales struck from the West Greenland stock in accordance with this sub-paragraph shall not exceed 19 in each of the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018
The number of minke whales from the Central stock shall not exceed12 in each of the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The number of minke whales struck from the West Greenland stockshall not exceed 164 in each of the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The number of bowhead whales struck from the West Greenland shall not exceed 2 in each of the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
The number of Humpback whales struck off West Greenland shall not exceed 10 in each of the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
Failure to Provide Vital Scientific Data
The Scientific Committee is reliant upon whaling nations to conduct surveys of the whales they hunt and collect data such as DNA samples to help elucidate stock structure and to provide the information needed to set quotas. Failure to provide this data has serious implications. For example, without new survey and genetic data the Scientific Committee could only base its evaluation of the sustainability of Greenland’s fin and minke whale hunts on outdated assessments (from 1987 for fin whale and 1993 for minkes). For years, and with increasing urgency, the Scientific Committee warned the IWC that, without specific information from Greenland, it could not guarantee the sustainability of the hunt, and advised of “potentially serious consequences for the status of the stocks involved”. Greenland repeatedly failed to provide the data until, in 2005, faced with the IWC cancelling its fin whale quota, it volunteered to reduce its hunt to 10 whales (from 19) in the last two years of the block quota. Finally in 2006, it provided enough data for the Scientific Committee to resolve new population estimates for both species.
Strike and Landing Limits
As the table above shows, ASW quotas are expressed inconsistently. After many years of campaigning by WDC, other NGOs and some conservation led countries, a strike limit is now set, meaning that once that number of whales have been hit with a harpoon (or rifle in the case of Greenland), hunting must stop, regardless of how many were landed. For other hunts, a landing limit is set. WDC is concerned that landing (or ‘take’) limits do not provide strong incentives for hunters to land all the whales that they strike. This has serious conservation implications (for example, during the 2001 Alaskan bowhead hunt, 26 whales were struck and lost). It also raises significant welfare concerns. A wide range of wounds can be inflicted by harpoons and rifles – from lacerations to soft tissue, organ or bone damage, and loss of flippers and flukes. Injured whales that do not die within hours or days may still be prevented by their wounds from functioning normally, including communicating, migrating, feeding and reproducing, and may die a premature death as a result of infection, starvation, or predation. The Bequian quota is set at number of whales ‘taken’ and this should be changed to struck to be consistent with best practice.
The IWC provides no complete definition of the word ‘aborigines’ although it is assumed through practice to refer to native or indigenous people. The IWC permits contracting governments to nominate those whom they consider applicable. Even though the IWC has been clear on what they regard as those who should benefit from aboriginal subsistence hunts there is no formal requirement that they meet any definition agreed in wider international law based on cultural or anthropological parameters.
Paragraph 13a of the Schedule to the Convention describes the aim of Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling (ASW) as “catch limits for aboriginal whaling to satisfy aboriginal subsistence need”. In 1982 the IWC Working Group noted that,
‘Aboriginal/subsistence whaling means whaling, for purposes of local aboriginal consumption, carried out by or on behalf of aboriginals, indigenous or native peoples who share strong community, social and cultural ties related to a continuing traditional dependence on whaling and on the use of whales.
Local aboriginal consumption means the traditional uses of whale products by local aboriginal, indigenous or native communities in meeting their nutritional, subsistence and cultural requirements. The term includes trade in items which are by-products of subsistence catches’[Emphasis added].
Also, at the 36th Annual meeting in 1984, the ASW Sub-committee provided guidelines on the format and content of needs documentation. These guidelines, which the Commission agreed provided “a useful checklist of information to be provided in considering aboriginal/subsistence whaling”, sought details such as “role of whale products as food in the community/importance of whale products in the traditional diet” and “number in each whaling community”. This emphasis arguably reflects the IWC’s intent that the human population whose needs are being considered is the whaling community, not the population at large
Both Norway and Japan have taken advantage of the lack of a formal definition to try to blur the distinction between subsistence and commercial whaling by making applications on behalf of those engaged in ‘small type whaling’. St Vincent and the Grenadines, whose whaling operation is the remnant of a post-colonial commercial ‘Yankee’ whaling operation from the late 1800s, has secured a quota for the inhabitants of one of its islands (Bequia) although they are not pre-colonial firstpeople.
Of course any definition is now openly abused as we see in Greenland but, increasingly also in other countries if this 2012 comment on the Alasakan Dispatch Website can be taken as true.
What is Needed?
Traditionally, the IWC has taken a twin approach in considering ASW applications; requiring to be satisfied that applicants have demonstrated both a nutritional/subsistence need for whale meat, and a cultural (i.e. traditional) reliance upon it. Historically, the Schedule specified that whales can only be taken by those “whose traditional aboriginal subsistence and cultural needs have been recognised” (our emphasis). Unfortunately, this language was not carried forward when quotas were amended in 2002. WDC believes that the previous twin approach, that highlighted the importance of nutritional need, should be re-examined.
In the majority of ASW cases, biological or nutritional need (i.e. the need for physical sustenance) is met or supplemented by other locally-sourced foods (including small cetaceans and other marine mammals) or increasing ‘imports’ of non-local, sometimes ‘western’ food. Thus, to justify a continued claim for an ASW quota, WDC believes that claimants should have to show something more – that their continued nutritional reliance on whales over alternatives is part of their traditional culture. WDC believes that when assessing subsistence need, the IWC should have all the relevant facts before it, including, at least, what takes of small cetaceans are being consumed by these communities in addition to the big cetacean takes proposed. Before making a judgment to allow a hunt on a potentially endangered species the Commission must be able to make an assessment of the relative impact of not granting a quota verses the risk of hunting on such endangered populations
It would seem self-evident that a so-called subsistence quota should not countenance any commercial elements. However, in Greenland, once the hunting crew and boat owner have taken their share of the whale, the rest is sold to a state-owned company that processes (packages and freezes) it for distribution all over the territory, including through supermarkets. Increased evidence appears to be coming to light of narwhal that have been killed solely for their tusks, the fabled ‘unicorn horn’. The mixing of commercial and nutritional needs clouds the ability to make an appropriate assessment of the real nutritional needs of these communities.
All the ASW allocations require “the meat and products of such whales …to be used exclusively for local consumption”, although the Greenland and St Vincent quota do not require the consumption to be by the “aborigines”. As a result, the widely distributed whale meat distributed in Greenland can be consumed by all residents, not necessarily just the Inuit population. WDC has exposed the fact that whale meat is also available to tourists. Whale meat has It is also exported to Denmark for the non-commercial use of Greenlanders living there. The IWC does not formally define “local”, but an IWC panel suggested in 1980 that it be defined as “the barter, trade, or sharing of whale products in their harvested form with relatives of the participants in the harvest, with others in the local community or with persons in locations other than the local community [with] whom local residents share familial, social, cultural, or economic ties…”. However, this definition was never formally adopted by the IWC.
WDC believes that the IWC should apply two criteria in respect of culture to its assessments of ASW claims: Whaling must be central to the culture of the claimants and they must have a long and uninterrupted history of whaling. This was a point of controversy in repeated applications by the US in the 1990s for the Makah tribe of Washington State to hunt gray whales. Although the Makah tribe had a US treaty right to whale, at that time they had not done so for over 70 years and many IWC member states argued that a continuing tradition could not be claimed. Many IWC members still do not believe that the claim of the Makah has been recognised by the IWC and is therefore, not endorsed by the international community.
The IWC recognises that killing methods used in ASW hunts are typically less efficient than those used in commercial whaling operations, often leading to higher struck and lost rates and longer times to death. The IWC has passed several resolutions seeking improvements in the humaneness of aboriginal subsistence whaling operations.
There are serious concerns about the efficiency of some methods used in aboriginal subsistence hunts, particularly the use of underpowered rifles in Greenland as a primary killing method for some minke whales and as a back-up (secondary) killing method for the much larger fin whales. However, the IWC leaves the decision about which equipment to use to the discretion of the hunters.
Hunting data are shared at annual working groups and advice about techniques and equipment is provided by experts during regular technical Workshops. However, in many cases, the information provided by Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling nations is incomplete or not based on consistently applied criteria. For example, Greenland’s hunters use the same harpoon on the same species (minke whale) as Norway, but apply different criteria for judging the onset of death or insensibility – making it difficult to draw useful conclusions from a comparison of their techniques. Furthermore, Greenland does not collect welfare data for each whale landed, making a full comparative analysis of its different killing methods for the same species impossible. For example, in 2006, Greenland reported the time to death data for only 13% of minkes it killed with rifles (the less effective killing method), while it reported data for 94% of minkes killed with the more efficient harpoons.
Blurring the Lines
It has long been a strategy of the proponents of commercial whaling that they wish to blur the lines in the minds of the public between what is Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling and commercial whaling. The recent attempts at secure a ‘compromise’ deal on Japanese whaling are one case in point. WDC believes that this technique to try to circumvent the IWC is highly inappropriate and unethical.
The failure of Greenland to obtain a quota in 2012
Following revelations by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) and the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) of the wide-spread commercial sale of whale meat in Greenland to tourists, increasingly concerned IWC Member States reacted by refusing to grant Greenland any increase in its hunt of large whales for so-called aboriginal subsistence needs. Indeed, in a procedural failure, Denmark failed to get any quota approved at all.
Greenland was seeking to increase the number of endangered fin and humpback whales it kills for the subsistence needs of its native people for the next six years, but the undercover operation conducted by WDC and AWI exposed how Greenland has been actively undermining the IWC’s ban on commercial whaling by openly selling whale meat in the vast majority of its restaurants and also in supermarkets.
The EU offered to amend Denmark’s proposal, but Denmark refused, demanding that its original proposal was voted on immediately. The final IWC vote was 25 in favour, and 34 against, 3 abstained. Failure to obtain the 3/4 majority meant that the proposal was rejected.
Criticism of Greenland was led by the Latin block of countries who pointed out there was little difference between what Greenland was doing in feeding whales to tourists and that practiced by commercial whaling operations.
Claims by Denmark on behalf of Greenland that they would not stop selling whale meat to tourists and that Greenland’s whalers could use baseball bats to kill whales if they wanted to, did little to endear Greenland to the rest of the IWC.
Denmark was fully aware of the EU position as well as the strong opposition amongst other members of the IWC, so in pushing their original proposal, they knew it was bound to fail and so rob the actual aboriginal subsistence hunters of Greenland’s remote communities of an IWC quota.
In 2014, further to threats from Denmark that it would leave the IWC if the EU Commission did not support its proposals, Greenland secured a new quota for the period 2014-2018.