Norway’s whaling under new attack

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Three international environmental and animal rights organizations have issued a new report claiming how Norway not only continues to promote its controversial whaling but also is making “systematic efforts” to weaken international whale management rules, to improve market conditions for its whalers. In doing so, claim the critics, one of the world’s “most modern and prosperous countries” remains stuck in the past.

The cover of the new report on Norwegian whaling, which features a photo of whale vertebrae found on Svalbard. PHOTO: AWI/OceanCare/Pro Wildlife/Weymuller Photography

The cover of the new report on Norwegian whaling, which features a photo of whale vertebrae found on Svalbard. PHOTO: AWI/OceanCare/Pro Wildlife/Weymuller Photography

That’s reflected in the report’s title, Frozen in Time: How Modern Norway Clings to its Whaling Past, compiled and released this week by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) of the US, and organizations OceanCare of Switzerland and Pro Wildlife of Germany. It details Norway’s alleged undermining of the International Whaling Commission (IWC)’s ban on commercial whaling.

The report also contends that Norway now ranks as the world’s largest whaling nation, killing more whales in the past two years than Japan and Iceland combined. Norway’s whale hunt has been spared much of the diplomatic pressure and international legal action taken against whaling in Iceland and Japan, claim the report’s authors, noting that the IWC itself has “not formally commented” on Norway’s whaling for many years. “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,” stated Sigrid Lüber, president of OceanCare, in a press release issued in connection with the report.

The report further details the creation of new whale products in Norway, backed with funding from the Norwegian government. The new products are aimed at helping sustain the whaling industry at a time when even far fewer Norwegians are eating whale meat, once a standard part of the local diet. The products include dietary supplements, medicines and cosmetics, including skin cream derived from whale oil.

“We were stunned that a Norwegian company is actively selling health and beauty products manufactured from whale oil,” said Susan Millward, executive director of AWI. “This is not the 1800s. It is incomprehensible that such a modern nation produces skin creams sourced from an inherently cruel industry.”

Sandra Altherr, a biologist with ProWildlife, called Norway’s whaling industry an “anachronism,” claiming that “slaughtering whales to eat and trade has no place in Norway and serves only to diminish the country’s international reputation.”

To read the full report, click here (external link to “Frozen in Time”).

Norwegian officials across party lines have generally continued to defend the country’s right to harvest its marine resources, and contend that whaling has long traditions in Norwegian history that must be maintained. Whaling also has provided a source of income in remote areas of Norway’s northern coast, that government officials want to keep populated for strategic reasons.

Whaling advocates further claim that hunting whales is no different from hunting other animals and that the population of whales hunted is not threatened.

On Monday, the same day the report was released, Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) ran a report from website KystogFjord (Coast and Fjord) (external link, in Norwegian) about how whales also have been “stealing” catches from fishing boats off Vesterålen in Northern Norway lately. The first incident occurred two years ago, when a sperm whale dove near a boat to eat the catch of halibut it was drawing up.

The rumour of good pickings may have spread among the smart whales, with as many as 10 swimming around fishing boats this summer. When the crew on board one boat hauled in their catch, only fish heads remained.

“This is very unusual,” whale researcher Tiu Similä told KystogFjord, who likened the practice to children picking berries. Similä and other researchers are now studying the whales’ technique, and think they wait until the boats draw up their lines, and then bite off the bodies of the fish.

Similä doesn’t think the whales are simply being lazy and sparing themselves a dive down to where the halibut are. “It can be blamed on a change in the food available to them,” she told NRK, and the whales are hungry. Researchers are now testing out sound equipment aimed at scaring whales away from the fishing boats.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund