Whale protection advocates call on the EU to address whaling in European waters

Wädenswil/Munich, April 4th 2018: April 1st saw the start of the North Atlantic whaling season and the first whale has already been harpooned.The governments of Iceland and Norway keep ignoring the international ban on commercial whaling and continue to unilaterally authorise the hunting of minke whales and even highly endangered fin whales. Whales are internationally strictly protected – commercial hunting is prohibited. That is why the international whale protection organisations OceanCare, Pro Wildlife and Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) are calling upon the EU to take up a leading role in the fight against commercial whaling, especially in view of the forthcoming meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in September 2018.

Norway’s government has increased its annual whaling quota to 1,278 minke whales from 999 last year. Paradoxically, in 2017, the number of whales killed had plunged to 432 minke whales, the lowest in 20 years. In addition, there were only eleven whaling boats involved licensed to take part in the hunt, a number almost halved from the previous year. “The gap between increasing quotas and decreasing actual catches, as well as the diminishing demand for whale products is a clear indication that the Norwegian whaling industry is only kept alive for political reasons,” says Nicolas Entrup, Ocean Policy Consultant for OceanCare.

Misleading calculation of catch quotas

Norway claims to set its national minke whale catch limits based on calculations by the Scientific Committee of the IWC. In reality, this is far from the truth:

“Norway abuses the variables set by the IWC, so that instead of 300 minke whales they claim 1,278 animals to be a sustainable quota”, Entrup continues. “Leading cetacean scientists have not declared Norway’s – and Iceland’s – arbitrary quotas to be sustainable. Commercial whaling is cruel, unnecessary and unsustainable. The global ban must be enforced,” demands Entrup.

Since 2016 Norwegian whaling has come under increased criticism – also sparked by “Frozen in Time, a report published by OceanCare, Pro Wildlife and the Animal Welfare Institute. The report proved how modern Norway is clinging to its whaling past and how it continuously undermines the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling. The report was presented to delegates at the last IWC meeting in 2016.

Iceland’s whaling at a turning point?

In Iceland, too, there is a gap between quotas and actual catches: fishermen are allowed to kill up to 209 minke whales in 2018; in fact, only 46 and 17 animals respectively have been killed in the last two years. “People in Iceland hardly eat whale meat any more. At present, tourists are the main customers. They taste whale meat and ignore the fact that they finance the hunt for minke whales”, says Dr. Sandra Altherr, biologist with Pro Wildlife. In addition, Iceland is the only country in the world that unilaterally allows hunting for endangered fin whales: The influential millionaire Kristjan Loftsson could kill up to 154 fin whales in 2018 – but in the past two years he has refrained from hunting because the anticipated exports of fin whale meat to Japan have stalled. The new Icelandic government will soon have to decide whether it will continue to issue quotas in the future: “Especially now, pressure from the European Union would be particularly important to end the hunt for fin whales,” Altherr stresses.

Action needed by the EU

Since the ban on whaling was introduced, approximately 15,000 whales have fallen victim to explosive harpoons in the North Atlantic. It is surprising that in in light of these significant numbers “commercial whaling” is not even an item on the agenda of the International Whaling Commission meeting. The last time commercial whaling was formally criticised by the IWC member states was in 2001. Norway and Iceland use the silence by the IWC as an argument that their whaling activities are accepted.

In a strongly worded resolution issued in September 2017, the EU Parliament took action and called on Norway to finally stop whaling with Parliamentarians pointing towards facts provided in the “Frozen in Time” report. The whale protection organisations are now hoping that at the next IWC meeting, the European Union will follow this lead from Parliament with decisive action.

“The member states of the European Union must no longer tolerate commercial whaling in European waters. We expect concrete political and diplomatic steps towards Iceland and Norway,” Astrid Fuchs, Programme Lead at WDC concludes. The next IWC conference will take place in Brazil from September, 10th to 14th.

Further Background Information

In the 1980s, the IWC imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling activities for 13 species of large whales. While Japan hunts under the guise of scientific whaling, Norway has formally objected to the moratorium and is therefore not bound by it. The hunting of whales in Norwegian territorial waters is therefore permitted for local fishermen. The same applies to the whale meat trade with Japan despite an international ban on trade in whale products. As in Iceland, the Norwegian Ministry of Fisheries unilaterally sets its own annual catch quotas, ignoring the IWC guidelines.

Killing of pregnant females

In 2017, a Norwegian documentary reported on a particularly problematic element of the hunt. Often, a high proportion of pregnant females are being killed, which means an enormous animal welfare and species protection problem. The Norwegian documentary at the time spoke of 90 percent of the whales killed to have been females and the majority of those to have been pregnant. To clarify, current calculations for the years 2000 to 2015 show that on average, almost 70 percent of the whales hunted are females, whereof 42.5 percent of them were pregnant; thus this remains a significant species conservation problem.

Media contacts

  • Nicolas Entrup, Consultant to OceanCare: M: (+43) 660 211 9963, nentrup@oceancare.org
  • Sandra Altherr, Biologist at Pro Wildlife: M: (+49) 174 217 5054, sandra.altherr@prowildlife.de
  • Astrid Fuchs, Stop Whaling Programme Lead, WDC Germany, M: (+49) 176 992 4414, astrid.fuchs@whales.org
  • Images, Credits and Captions

· Whalers cutting up dead minke whale on board their ship ©Michael Tenten/IMMCS

· Harpooned minke whale hauled on board ©Michael Tenten/IMMCS

· Dead minke whale aboard a whaling ship ©Michael Tenten/IMMCS

· Hauling in dead minke whale ©Michael Tenten/IMMCS

Further links and information

  • Frozen in Time: How modern Norway clings to its whaling past (2016) by OceanCare, Pro Wildlife and Animal Welfare Institute
  • Citation: Altherr, S., O’Connell, K., Fisher, S., Lüber, S. (2016). Frozen in Time. Report by Animal Welfare Institute, OceanCare and Pro Wildlife. 23 pp.
  • Infograph: „Norwegian whaling is NOT sustainable“. Comparison of self-allocated quotas, actual catches and RMP Quota for the years 1993 to 2018
  • Further graphs/statistics available upon request