“You don’t watch whales die and hold signs and do nothing.”
- Paul Watson, anti-whaling activist and Captain of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
When whaling, modern whalers will use ‘harpoons fired from the bow of a whaling vessel’. They are ‘fitted with penthrite grenades that will penetrate’ one foot into the whale’s body before exploding, ‘releasing claw-like protrusions into the flesh.’ The explosion should either result in brain damage leading to death, or render the whale unconscious. But boats are not always stable on water, and the harpoon often misses the mark, causing suffering from blood loss and trauma.
The International Whaling Commission (IWC), established under the 1946 International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling ‘issued a moratorium on commercial whaling’ in 1982 which came into effect in 1986. This was a major conservation and welfare decision, a real effort to end thecommercial hunting of whales which has ‘wiped out almost 3 millions animals in the last century.’
But there are still three main countries that continue to hunt whales.
During the 2022 whaling season, ‘Norway killed at least 580 whales’. In fact, since the IWC banned commercial whaling, Norwegian whalers have killed more than 15,000 whales.
This is obviously not to say that all Norwegians hate whales and wish to eradicate the species. It is actually a widely disapproved practice, with a 2021 survey displaying that 6 out of 10 Norwegians disapprove of whaling. Veterinarian and head of Norway’s largest animal protection NGO, NOAH, Siri Martinsen also states, “This has gone on for 40 years too long – now the catch must be discontinued.”
However, there are people in power who disagree with this, and add fuel to the fire that is whaling. The ‘Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries’ states that whaling is seen as part of “Norway’s resource management [which] is based on the principle of sustainable use of natural resources”, and paired with the Norwegian government officials’ description of whaling as “something normal” which provides a good food source, it is clear that the opposition to the moratorium is strong.
Sadly, pregnant whales are the easiest target for whalers. They are slower and tend to stay closer to the shore. A Norwegian documentary ‘Slaget om kvalen’ or Battle of Agony revealed the horrifying truth that 90% of hunted minke whales are pregnant females. Norway goes against the World Organisation for Animal Health’s (WOAH) Guidelines for the Slaughter of Animals for Human Consumption that state that before being removed from uterus, the foetus must be unconscious. Norway also infringes its own Animal Welfare Act and its Wildlife Act that state that there should not be any unnecessary suffering during slaughter.
Icelandic whalers killed 148 whales during the 2022 whaling season, and between 2006 and 2022, ‘exactly one thousand fin whales have been killed.’ The fin whale is labelled ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
It is the nation that has ‘separated from the IWC the longest.’ Iceland did not want to stay connected to the IWC who were strongly advocating for whaling restrictions, and therefore Iceland left it in 1991. In 2002, they re-joined, taking a ‘reservation’ against the ban.
After re-joining, Iceland officially resumed the practice of commercial whaling in October 2006. Many countries responded with anger at Iceland’s bypassing of international regulations.
In 2015, hunting advocates explained that their intentions to hunt could be justified by the theory that the whales were eating all the fish. There are many scientific sources disapproving this misconception. One of the strongest arguments in favour of whaling is that it is part of the nation’s ‘seafaring tradition.’
In 2022, Japan had their fourth commercial whaling season since officially leaving the IWC in 2018. Japan resumed commercial whaling ‘in its own exclusive economic zone (EEZ)’ in 2019.
Astrid Fuchs, the whaling program manager for UK ‘based non-profit Whale and Dolphin Conservation’ spoke to National Geographic and shared that the withdrawal of Japan could be a political move to send the message that ‘the country can use the oceans as they please.’
There had long been tension in Japan’s relationship with the IWC. Japan faced much criticism from many ‘individuals, organisations, and states’ due to their evident pro-whaling attitude. Japan had even been taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over its ‘annual hunts in the Antarctic in 2013.’ Most attempts to ‘soften’ the Japanese beliefs and views on whaling failed, as both the political crowd and society mostly kept their traditional beliefs and things remained unchanged.
Something that Norway, Iceland and Japan all have in common is that they have all abused a loophole in the IWC regulations, one that states that whaling is allowed when it is being done for the purpose of ‘scientific research’.
For example, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, through this legal loophole, Japan had justified the killing of 50 minke whales in 2018 between January and February, claiming that it was for ‘scientific research’.
The pro-whaling countries will claim that their hunts are justified, but the whales’ meat ends up in restaurants and supermarkets – even though the demand for whale meat has dropped. A 2019 study by Whale and Dolphin Conversation, partnered with other organisations, found that ‘only 4% of Norwegians surveyed said they often eat whale meat.’
Loopholes such as these may benefit a nation or two, but they are lethal to animals everywhere.
“Some of the greatest minds on Earth live in the seas.”
– Anthony Douglas Williams