Whaling season opens in Norway … opponents protest

WHALES ONLINE (13 May 2004) -- The Norwegian whaling season began on Monday, May 10. Norway will hunt a total of 670 minke whales this year. The season will end August 31 and most of the minke whales will be hunted in the Barents Sea, north of Norway.

Norway is the only country in the world still hunting whales commercially despite the international moratorium on whaling that was decreed by members of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 1982. Whale meat is a highly prized traditional Norwegian food. Blubber, on the other hand, is neither consumed nor used in Norway and remains stockpiled in freezers. Hopes of exporting this product to Japanese consumers were quashed in May 2003 when Japan refused to import Norwegian whale blubber due to the high levels of PCBs that it contained.

A large number of environmental groups are opposed to whaling activities. Last March, a report entitled "Troubled Waters" -- that was signed by 200 organizations representing 58 countries -- criticized present-day whaling methods. Several of these organizations are participating in a campaign to ban whaling, hoping to pressure the IWC into putting an end to all commercial and scientific whaling.

The IWC will be holding its 56th annual meeting in Sorrento, Italy from July 19 to July 22, 2004. This commission was created to manage whale populations for a sustainable whaling industry. Members have been working for several years to develop a management plan known as the Revised Management Scheme. However, many member countries are increasingly adopting a "conservation" alignment. The establishment of a conservation committee last year had the effect of satisfying anti-whaling countries, while frustrating those that were for the hunt. These countries -- that their voices are not being heard -- regularly threaten to pursue their activities outside of the IWC. [BBC]

Want to know more

On BBC site:
Norway opens whale-hunting season
Whaling "too cruel to continue"
Whales Online:

The information has not been verified but comes from reliable sources.


What exactly is going on with the whale hunt?
• Commercial whaling
• Scientific whaling
• Which countries are still whaling?
• To find out more: Read current events on Whales Online website

Commercial whaling

Commercial whaling likely began in the IX Century in the North Sea and in the XII Century in the Gulf of Gascogne. When right whale populations started to diminish over the course of the XVI Century in Europe, whalers headed for North America. Over the centuries, a veritable industry developed along the coasts of North America. Thousands of whales, right whales, rorqual whales, sperm whales, grey whales and several others, were hunted every year. The hunt intensified with the invention of the exploding harpoon and the advent of more powerful ships. From 1904 to 1985, over 2 million whales were taken in the Antarctic alone. This hunt led to several species being depleted to the point of near extinction.

In 1946 -- after it became obvious that whale populations had been overexploited -- the International Whaling Commission (IWC) was created. Its mandate was to ensure sufficient conservation of whale populations so that sustainable harvesting could continue. In 1982, IWC member countries imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling. This moratorium was supposed to last form 1986 to 1990. It is still in place. However, according to the convention signed in 1946, any member is free to oppose a resolution -- such as the one that led to the moratorium -- and thus grant themselves commercial quotas. Norway did just that in 1982. Before actually resuming commercial whaling, this country pursued a scientific whaling programme targeting minke whales. They killed 289 whales per year from 1988 to 1995. In 1993 they began commercial whaling again; 700 minke whales per year are killed in Norway’s territorial waters. The meat is sold locally. Norway has been attempting to resume whale product exports -- particularly whale blubber, which Norwegians do not consume -- despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Yet their products have been rejected by Japan, their main potential client, due to high contaminant levels, especially PCBs. Iceland is now also planning to resume commercial whaling in 2006. Until then, it is conducting scientific whaling.

Certain IWC member countries have long since given up on the hunt and fiercely oppose any resumption of commercial whaling. The principal arguments of these countries are practical in nature; several whale populations that were rendered fragile by past whaling activities would not be able to support commercial whaling. According to these countries, regulating and monitoring this hunt, along with the trade that would ensue, would be impossible. Several environmental groups share this position. Some are opposed for moral reasons; whales are “special” creatures and hunting them is cruel. Adding to arguments against whaling are several threats that weigh on whales, such as pollution, climate change or fisheries. Is it possible to accurately predict the effects of these threats on whale populations and manage them accordingly?
Pro-whaling countries believe that the IWC is moving away from its original mandate -- the healthy management of whaling -- by accepting countries that are opposed to whaling on moral or ethical grounds. They consider that whales can be hunted in the same way that any wild animal can be hunted. Their pro-whaling position is based on cultural, social, economic and political reasons. Present-day whaling, be it either commercial or subsistence in nature, essentially supplies meat for human consumption. According to pro-whaling countries and groups, it is well regulated and carried out in such a way as to minimize animal suffering.

The coming years will be crucial for the future of whaling. Whatever the conflicts, everyone agrees on the importance of not repeating past errors. How will we face this challenge? It is most important that we truly understand the debate and remain open-minded about cultural differences.

Scientific whaling

Intensive whaling furnished precious information concerning cetaceans. However, it also brought several species to the brink of extinction. Certain countries, like Japan, continue to hunt whales under the guise of science. The International Whaling Commission (IWC) convention signed in 1946 does, in fact, allow each member country the option of granting itself scientific whaling permits. Is this method still justifiable in the present context? Does scientific whaling contribute to science or does it mask commercial interests?

Japan and, as of 2003, Iceland are the only two countries with scientific whaling programmes. Japan began scientific whaling as soon as the 1986 moratorium came into force. It carries out two whaling programmes. The oldest takes place in Antarctica where Japan kills over 400 minke whales on an annual basis. This programme is aimed at estimating certain biological parameters -- such as the natural death rate (sic) -- and the study of the role of minke whales in the Antarctic ecosystem. The second programme, which began in 1994, involves the killing of 100 minke whales in the North Pacific. This programme is aimed at better understanding the feeding ecology of minke whales. In 2000, the Japanese also added Bryde’s whales and sperm whales to their hunt. In 2002, they added the sei whale. Whale products are sold on local markets as stipulated in the International Whaling Convention. Defenders of this hunt contend that it supplies new and useful information for the management of stocks of the whale species hunted.

Yet, scientific whaling programmes carried out by Japan and now Iceland are heavily criticized. For several years now during their annual meeting, IWC members have adopted resolutions encouraging Japan to abandon its programme. In 2002, Phil Clapham and his colleagues -- all members of the IWC Scientific Committee -- published an article in the magazine BioScience. In it they state that Japan’s programme does not include a hypothesis to be tested, nor does it include other performance indicators. They also maintain that the data collected are not necessary for the management of whale populations, that these data have not been submitted to an independent review process, that more useful information could be obtained without killing animals and that the programme sacrifices more animals than would be allowed under IWC quotas if a moratorium was not in place. They also state that this scientific hunting is nothing more than a pretext to maintain a demand for whale products and encourage a resumption of commercial whaling.

If scientific whaling continues, should the IWC demand that this activity meet rigorous scientific evaluation criteria? And if it is no more than a smoke screen for commercial activities, should the IWC lift the ban and “officially” manage harvesting? This sticky situation will likely be resolved in upcoming meetings of the IWC.

Which countries are still whaling?

• Japan, member of the IWC, has a scientific permit and kills approximately 700 whales every year, mostly minke whales, but also a few Bryde’s whales, sei whales and sperm whales. The Japanese also hunt small cetaceans; they kill more than 20 000 dolphins and porpoises annually in their coastal waters.

• Iceland, which returned to the IWC in 2002, is planning on resuming commercial whaling in 2006. Until then, it is conducting scientific whaling. In 2003, Icelandic whalers killed 36 minke whales.

• Norway formally objected to the IWC moratorium and kills approximately 700 minke whales every year in its territorial waters.

• The United States, Denmark, Russia and the West Indian islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines are all have IWC authorization to conduct subsistence whaling.

• Canada, which withdrew from the IWC in 1982, regulates the subsistence whaling of beluga, narwhal and bowhead whales by indigenous peoples.

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